At Ricker’s request, Proposition P committee re-evaluates leadership

By Alyson E. Raletz

With just a handful of projects remaining, the Mehlville School District’s Proposition P Oversight Committee recently re-evaluated its leadership at the request of Superintendent Tim Ricker.

While the Proposition P Oversight Committee retained Chuck Van Gronigen as chairman, Sandy Applegate, a retired teacher, was named vice chairman.

Members were unable to consider re-electing former Vice Chairman Gloria Brazell to the post because of a recent Board of Education decision that prohibits a district employee or board member from serving in a leadership role on the panel. Brazell, a former Board of Education member who is a teacher at Margaret Buerkle Middle School, had served as vice chairman since the committee’s second meeting in the spring of 2001.

She not only was relieved of her leadership duties — she resigned.

Brazell announced her resignation after she nominated Van Gronigen to continue his leadership role as chairman.

“I, myself, am resigning. I wish you all well. Ask a lot of questions,” Brazell told committee members Oct. 15.

Van Gronigen told committee members that Brazell’s experience in the district was an asset to the committee. She also had served two three-year terms as a Board of Education member and served a one-year term as board president. She also was a board member during the district’s previous bond issue in the early ’90s.

“With the change in the rules by excluding, by virtue of trying to eliminate potential conflicts of interest, it excludes Gloria from even being vice president. It’s a shame, especially for you new folks that may not have been here … with Gloria’s experience on the board … it really has added a richness to the discussion … It’s a shame that she can’t continue in that role,” Van Gronigen said.

Besides deciding that a district employee or board member could not serve in a leadership role on the Oversight Committee, Board of Education members voted Sept. 29 to approve a new membership list for the panel that in-cludes Ricker and Assistant Superintendent for Finance Randy Charles, the district’s chief financial officer.

After Brazell nominated Van Gronigen for chairman, Charles nominated another committee member, Tim Hud-walker, for the post.

But Hudwalker declined the nomination for chairman and Van Gronigen was re-elected by acclamation.

Even though Charles, as an administrator, traditionally has not had voting rights, Van Gronigen said Charles theoretically has the right to nominate members for leadership positions on the committee.

“But it was startling behavior for a member of the administration,” Van Gronigen told the Call. “Where did that come from?”

Van Gronigen also was surprised to discover the committee would be electing a new chairman and vice chairman that night, learning only shortly before the meeting that Ricker had placed those items of business on the agenda.

In a letter attached to the agenda sent to other committee members, Ricker wrote, “Our first order of business is to elect a chairperson and vice chairperson for the committee. If you have suggestions or would like to volunteer for these important leadership positions, call me.”

Van Gronigen said he “had no idea” why the committee needed to re-evaluate its leadership and it was not until the actual meeting that he heard Ricker offer some type of explanation.

During the meeting Ricker stated that he was requesting committee members examine the panel’s leadership be-cause of the amount of new members joining the group.

After discussions with board members, staff members and people who had served on the Oversight Committee, Ricker said he believed there was a need for the group to review leadership. If new people were added to the committee, it only made sense, he said, that new committee members had a chance to elect new chairmen.

He said he was the one who made the decision for the committee to elect new chairmen and that he formulated the agenda without Van Gronigen’s input.

During the discussion of who would serve in the leadership roles, committee member Karen Johnson said that she did not believe the new members had been on the panel long enough to get to know each other and asked if the committee had to pick a new vice chairman at the meeting.

Ricker replied, “Yes.”

He later told the Call, “We had an item on the agenda and we were looking for a decision from the committee. I felt that bringing it out and drawing it out makes it more political than it needs to be. The Oversight Committee is not a committee that needs to be political.”

Ricker said he wanted committee members to vote that evening because he did not believe it was in the best interest of the committee to wait a week while coalitions could form and campaigning within the group could begin.

If the committee members had elected not to change their leadership, Brazell still could not have continued to serve as vice chairman since she is a district employee, Ricker said. Board members would have addressed any exceptions or grandfathering issues when they approved the new policy, he said.

“The Board of Education was adamant about a board member or employee not serving in leadership capacity … the board members would have tackled grandfathering … I will not question the board’s logic — that’s not my role,” Ricker said.

The panel’s discussion about who would serve in leadership roles on the Oversight Committee was interrupted by board member Mike Heins, who pointed out that Van Gronigen now lives in the Lindbergh School District.

“I think you (Van Gronigen) need to let everybody know about the residential — that you no longer live in the school district,” said Heins, who is not on the oversight panel.

Van Gronigen responded by saying that he already had informed committee members, former Superintendent John Cary and Ricker when he moved into a new house earlier this year — it technically was outside the boundaries of the district — but he did not know this until after he moved into the residence. He also noted that he is paying $6,200 in tuition so his son can attend Oakville Senior High School.

“I’m 75 feet from being a resident of the Mehlville School District,” Van Gronigen said. “I tried to make that clear … at the last meeting that, in fact, that was an issue and I asked members at the time to give me some of their feedback because I would completely understand if that is something they felt created a bind for me to serve in a leadership role.”

Heins left the meeting shortly after he voiced his concerns.

Oversight Committee members also decided, in a 6-5 vote, to give the committee’s two Board of Education representatives voting privileges with board member Rita Diekemper casting the deciding vote.

Marea Kluth-Hoppe, the committee’s other board representative, arrived later in the meeting and did not vote.

Ricker requested committee members to consider who were voting members among the group.

Van Gronigen told the committee that in the past, board members have not been able to vote, but Diekemper pointed out she had voted in past meetings.

She said since she had been on the committee from the beginning, she had the right to vote.

“The only thing that might be a little odd with that is the Oversight Committee really is providing oversight essentially to the board,” Van Gronigen said. “And as a member of the board, you are overseeing the overseers. You’re playing both dual roles … It could be a conflict of interest just as much as an employee playing a leadership role.”

Diekemper disagreed.

“I don’t think it’s a conflict of interest. It might be a doubling of interests because I could be saying the same reservations at a board meeting that I would say at this meeting,” Diekemper said. “I think I have a right to speak at this meeting as well as anyone else has the right to speak. I think because I’m a board member my rights are not inhibited.”