Three Mehlville Board of Education members wanted to censure another member — but President Mark Stoner, questioning the motivation behind the motion, declined to bring it to the full board.
Board member Ron Fedorchak said he wrote a motion to censure Secretary Rich Franz for behavior “outside of expected norms” after Franz questioned Superintendent Eric Knost about Knost’s television and radio appearances at the board’s Nov. 7 meeting.
Employees have a right to a private evaluation of their performance, according to the motion.
“The suggestion that my comments were in any way related to an official evaluation of Eric’s performance is absolutely ludicrous, in my opinion,” Franz said. “It’s pretty obvious to me that (other board members) were just taking a shot at anyone who would dare to disagree with the administration or (the board members’) liberal bias.”
Following Franz and Knost’s exchange, board member Elaine Powers told Franz he did not represent the rest of the board with his comments. After that night, Powers, Fedorchak and board member Larry Felton felt that the matter warranted a board discussion, and a censure would be a way to accomplish that while following parliamentary procedure, Fedorchak said.
A board must censure when a member’s “actions or behavior run counter to the group’s acceptable standards for individual behavior,” according to Fedorchak’s motion.
“Resolved, the conduct of Director Franz has been found to be outside of expected norms,” reads the motion. “He has violated the privacy of Dr. Eric Knost without supporting evidence and has acted against the direction set out by this board for the superintendent. The board hereby censures Director Rich Franz for the above transgressions.”
Censure would be unprecedented for Mehlville and is uncommon among school boards, usually reserved for serious misconduct. Some of the reasons cited by other school boards for censuring include financial conflicts of interest, sending false accusations to a district’s accrediting agency and profane outbursts. Although none of the Mehlville board’s policies outline how to censure or what it is, generally censuring is seen as public disapproval of an act by a board member. It does not affect the member’s standing on the board or expel him or her from office.
“It really gets down to, (Franz) was acting on his own against the wishes of the other board members, and I felt it was inappropriate, but it needed to be addressed in public,” Fedorchak said. “You get into public criticism of your employee — that’s definitely something that shouldn’t be done in public.”
On Nov. 20, the day before the board’s next meeting, Fedorchak emailed the censure motion to Stoner, after soliciting comments on a draft from Powers and Felton.
At the beginning of the next night’s meeting, Fedorchak and Felton voted against the agenda, which did not include the requested censure motion.
Traditionally, board presidents develop the agenda for meetings and decide when board members’ requested topics will come up on the meeting schedule.
Stoner said he rarely considers adding non-emergency motions at the last minute to board agendas, but he also suspected a different motive for the motion that made him hesitate to include it on the agenda for the next night’s meeting.
“Honestly, it seemed to me to be politically motivated,” he said. “I can’t read anybody’s heart, but it was very tight to the edge of that. There really didn’t seem to be a whole lot of merit to it.”
If board members had concerns they wanted to air publicly, they could have raised the topic during the meeting’s open session for comments, he added.
Fedorchak does not plan to bring up the motion at future board meetings, since it would not have the impact it would have at the meeting directly following the exchange, and Powers said she wants to focus on positive news from the school district. The board meets at 7 p.m. today — Dec. 12 — in the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.
Felton and Powers said they were unsure of how they might have voted on censuring if it had been on the agenda, but they would have liked to have had that public discussion.
Knost said he was unaware of the censure motion and declined to comment on it, noting that it is a board matter.
Instead of concern for Knost, the board members involved with the motion were motivated for other reasons, Franz said.
“I would say their motivation had absolutely nothing to do with the comments I made,” he said. “Their sole motivation is quieting and even silencing anyone who speaks for the taxpayers and anyone who stands up to the educational bureaucracy and the teachers’ union. And Elaine Powers, Larry Felton and Ron Fedorchak are committed to silencing anyone who questions the administration or the educational bureaucracy, and they were simply acting as puppets of those powerful forces within the district.”
Powers said that she views the board comments segment of the meeting as a time to make comments, not conduct long discussions among board members. To her, the censure motion was a way to provoke that discussion, while following Robert’s Rules of Order.
“In the context of our Robert’s Rules discussion, one of the things that I had talked about was are there ways that we can use Robert’s Rules to manage our processes for our group discussions?” she said. “So the idea came up to get something on the agenda to open the door for that discussion (of Franz). I thought it was worth discussing and worth putting it out there … That was the context that I was looking at (the censure) in, as a way to open up discussion and have a public discussion as a board.”
Franz said he likes Knost, voted to extend his contract for another three years last summer and has “complete confidence in Eric’s administrative abilities.” Speaking more with the media is one of the board’s goals for Knost, and Franz supports that effort, he added. With his comments on Nov. 7, however, Franz said he wanted to remind Knost that a perception might be created that his media appearances could take him away from his time spent in the district.
“I hope that you will work on spending lots of time in the Mehlville School District, and I know your focus is on the Mehlville School District and not on your radio and TV appearances, correct?” Franz asked.
“I take that as an insult, but I understand what you’re saying,” Knost said. “You can shadow me a week, and I think you’d be alarmed at the kind of hours that I spend in the Mehlville School District, thank you.”
Overseeing the administration is one of the key duties of a board member, Franz said.
“My job is to represent the taxpayers and the children of the Mehlville School District, and if I have to make those comments or ask those types of questions as part of my representation, then that’s what I will do,” he said.