Mehlville school board votes to suspend Distinguished Service Award presentation

Superintendent says award issue one of ‘credibility,’ ‘transparency’

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Mehlville Board of Education voted unanimously last week to suspend the presentation of the district’s Distinguished Service Award.

Before the board voted April 22, Superintendent Terry Noble read a statement recommending the award presentation be suspended this year because of concerns about the integrity of the voting process, including the destruction of ballots.

The Distinguished Service Award is presented at the school district’s annual Recognition Night. This year’s Recognition Night took place April 24.

“As you know, I promised transparency and openness and integrity in all of our procedures,” Noble said. “In addition, I’ve told the Board of Education I am personally responsible and accountable to you and to our public for every decision from administration, for every recommendation, for every proposal and the proper implementation of every policy and procedure.”

Noble continued, “And with regard to the Distinguished Service Award this year, I cannot tell you that that has occurred, and what I’m asking you to do is to suspend this year’s award — the presentation of the Distinguished Service Award. We will invite all those who nominated individuals to please resubmit those nominees in the future and then I will promise you that I will ensure the integrity of the process — that the integrity of the process is maintained in the future.

“So my recommendation is that you approve a motion to suspend this year’s awarding of the Distinguished Service Award,” he said.

Board member Karl Frank Jr.’s motion to accept Noble’s recommendation, seconded by board Vice President Micheal Ocello, was unanimously approved by the board.

The Distinguished Service Award was approved by the Board of Education in January 1990, and is awarded annually to recognize excellence of performance, service, character and contribution to the Mehlville School District and its community.

During an interview with the Call, Noble said, “The Distinguished Service Award is a great award. I think it’s something that the board will want to continue. They will want to modify the process. As far as what happened this year, when I’m asked to provide documentation, I feel like I should be able to do that to validate the selection and I’m using that based on my experience as a high-school principal. I’ve used that example before. We have elections. Let’s just say it’s a student council election and people question the results. And they have a right to question if they want to. It’s their school. But if they ask me as a student council sponsor or as a principal to be able to validate the election, I’ve got to have the documentation to do that.

“And in this case, the ballots had been shredded or destroyed. Some of the ballots had been taken over the phone with no paper trail and we couldn’t — just couldn’t validate it. And some would argue that well, it’s about who won. It’s also about who didn’t win. I mean there were several people nominated … We’d like to be able to tell anyone who asked what the results were, how they came out,” he added.

Noting that the board acted on his recommendation, Noble said, “Some people have criticized the board for this, but as I said in a statement I read to the board, it’s always about credibility and transparency …,” he said. “If they don’t think we mean it, then this is an example from me that we mean it. If my name is attached to it, which it is because this came out of my office. It’s someone who’s assigned to me that’s responsible for this and I’m the one who has to answer for it. I’ve got to ensure that there’s credibility and I couldn’t do that in this case so it was my recommendation to the board that we dispense of the award temporarily — for this year — but at the same time, we strongly encourage those who nominated someone this year to nominate them again next year.

“And I can assure everyone had I been able to have access to the documentation, regardless of how the vote came out, that’s the way the award would have been given — no matter who the winner is,” he said.

For the future, the superintendent said the board will review and develop new guidelines for the presentation of the Distinguished Service Award.

“I think in the future the way the process might be modified would be … this board is going to be more comfortable with having some oversight on that process. I look for them to maybe in the future have a committee recommend the winners to them or it could be even the board would be the one to accept the nominations and re-view them themselves … They may do that because the award is the board’s award,” he said.

Noble said he would make a recommendation in the future for the board to consider.

Asked who was responsible for the situation that occurred this year, the superintendent said, “Well, the person in charge of the School/Community Relations Department has been assigned that responsibility in past years, including this year.”

During a closed session April 22, the Board of Education voted “to non-renew the contract for director of school/community relations under classified/support staff for 2008-2009 school year.”

Frank’s motion was seconded by Ocello and approved unanimously.

Patrick Wallace has served as director of school/community relations since November 2000. His last day with the district was April 22 and he has been placed on paid administrative leave through June 30.

As director of school/community relations, Wallace was paid $74,618.