Democrats urge APS board member out of state House race over questions about academic, criminal history

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AURORA | Multiple members of his own party urged Aurora Public Schools board member Eric Nelson to drop out of the race for state House District 42 Tuesday, June 14, after allegations that he misrepresented his academic credentials and criminal background.

And the APS Board of Education appears poised to consider the allegations at an upcoming meeting after at least one board member called into question Nelson’s fitness to serve in light of the controversy.

Aurora Public Schools board member Eric Nelson (via Nelson's campaign page)
Aurora Public Schools board member Eric Nelson (via Nelson’s campaign page)

APS Board of Education Vice President Dr. Dan Jorgensen wrote in an email Tuesday that he and Board President Amber Drevon will issue a joint statement that will “include a request for action” at an upcoming board meeting regarding the recent allegations cast toward Nelson, which were originally reported by Ernest Luning of The Colorado Statesman.

Nelson, who was elected to the APS school board in 2013, lied about obtaining several advanced degrees from various universities and has been arrested multiple times on several charges — including domestic violence — among several other unsavory accusations, according to The Statesman. 

Although it remains mostly sealed, Nelson’s criminal record with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation still includes five arrests between 2002 and 2007 that span several jurisdictions and include charges of domestic violence, traffic violations and a felony warrant from New Mexico.

PDF: Eric Nelson Division of Insurance order regarding failure to note criminal record

Allegations were first raised in light of a Department of Regulatory Agencies order that found that Nelson did not acknowledge his criminal past in filling out an application “for licensure as an insurance produced with bail bond authority.” The denial claimed Nelson failed “to demonstrate that you are competent, trustworthy and of good moral character, and of good business reputation.”

Nelson’s claims regarding his academic record include a PhD in organizational psychology from Southeastern University in Washington, D.C. Nelson reportedly claimed that he had a degree from Northeastern University in Boston, although the school had no record of Nelson’s attendance, according to The Statesman. 

Nelson replied to both the Sentinel and Statesman reporters late Tuesday via text message with a photograph of a purported master of science degree in social work from Northwest Nazarene University, a private Christian college in Idaho. However, multiple characteristics on the certificate suggest it is not an authentic NNU degree certificate.

The name of the university is misspelled in the Northwest Nazarene seal found at the bottom center portion of the degree. Additionally, a check of Northwest Nazarene’s course and degree offerings finds that the school does not offer a master of science degree in the field of social work. Text in the upper portion of the certificate also refers to the Board of Trustees of “Glassboro College,” which has no connection to Northwest Nazarene in granting degrees.

A digital alert from Omega Perp Alert noting that APS board member Eric Nelson is not a member of the fraternity Omega Psi Phi.
A digital alert from Omega Perp Alert noting that APS board member Eric Nelson is not a member of the fraternity Omega Psi Phi.

And Nelson’s questionable academic credentials extend beyond degrees. A group operating on behalf of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity issued an alert late last year saying that Nelson was not a member of the prominent African-American organization, despite Nelson’s claims stating otherwise.  Nelson reportedly claimed that he graduated from the Albany State chapter of the organization in 1994, according to an Omega Psi Phi “Perp Alert.”

After learning about the alleged discrepancies with Nelson’s record, Jorgensen wrote that Nelson’s board membership lacks openness and that he will ask Nelson not to include his name on the candidate’s endorsement page on his website. Both Jorgensen and fellow APS board member Barbara Yamrick had formally endorsed Nelson’s campaign for the central-Aurora Colorado House district.

I’m very concerned about the expressed allegations along with the fact that these claims were never brought to light prior to the 2013 APS Board election,” Jorgensen wrote. “Based on the presented allegations, his participation on the Board appears to be under false pretense and lacks the transparency to the community in which all APS Board members are expected to demonstrate and we actively strive to meet.”

POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS

In light of the recent allegations, state Rep. Alec Garnett (D-Denver), head of The House Majority Project — a Democratic organization that seeks to seat more Democrats in the State House — has called for Nelson to drop out of the race for HD 42 and has formally endorsed his challenger, Dominique Jackson.

“In my opinion the misrepresentation across the board shows a pattern of behavior that wouldn’t lend itself to good policymaking under the golden dome,” Garnett said. “I just don’t know what we can and can’t believe.”

Garnett added that because the primary election is now only two weeks away and ballots have already been mailed to voters, it’s difficult to assess how this new information could affect the race.

“Obviously the timing is awkward and not ideal in terms of the fact that ballots are already out,” he said. “But it’s important for Democrats to know that the party moved swiftly and showed leadership to condemn what is a pattern of extremely bad behavior.”

Jackson, a communications consultant and member of Aurora’s Citizens Advisory Committee for Housing and Community Development, said that she was aware of some of the accusations facing Nelson and is concerned about the truthfulness of his campaign.

“I’ve had some suspicions,” she said. “I’m very deeply concerned not just for the constituents of HD 42, but also for the constituents of our entire state. Making laws for the state of Colorado is not a position to be taken lightly, and honesty and integrity are qualities that we sincerely hope our elected officials will have.”

House Speaker Dicky Lee Hullinghort (D-Boulder) said she “was shocked” about the news regarding “the serious issues in Eric Nelson’s background.”

“The people of Colorado have the right to expect the highest levels of integrity from their elected officials,” Hullinghorst said in a statement calling for Nelson to withdraw from the race. “With the information that has come to light, it’s clear that Eric Nelson does not represent the Democratic Party and is not fit to be elected to the state Legislature.”

Current HD 42 state Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) echoed those concerns in her own statement, going so far as to urge Nelson to “withdraw his candidacy for state representative and to resign his seat on the school board.”

“This pattern of behavior is deeply disturbing to me, it’s unacceptable in a leader,” Fields said in the statement. “It goes against everything Democrats stand for, and I believe the people of Aurora and the state of Colorado deserve better.”

While Nelson did eventually send the photo of the purported Northwest Nazarene University degree certificate, he otherwise declined to return calls or offer comment on this story.

The APS Board of Education is next scheduled to meet for a work session at the Professional Learning and Conference Center on East 1st Avenue on June 21.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the city where the defunct Southeastern University was located. It was located in Washington, D.C.