Sunshine Law issue may cloud Mehlville honor

Committee selects three former board members for honor

By BURKE WASSON

Mehlville Board of Education members were working this week to call a special meeting to study possible Missouri Sun-shine Law violations connected to the selection committee for the district’s Distinguished Service Award.

District officials have been scheduled to present the award at the district’s annual Recognition Night scheduled tonight — April 30.

Because of issues raised over potential violations of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, board President Tom Diehl said Monday that the board could meet before the Recognition Night to determine if any improprieties occurred. That meeting had not been set at press time.

“I am working to call an emergency meeting to review the possible Sunshine Law violations and how it impacts the committee’s activities,” Diehl said.

Board members revealed at last week’s Board of Education meeting that three former school-board members were selected by the committee to this year receive the award. At press time, district officials declined to identify those honorees.

The 13-member committee was established this year by the board because of concerns about the integrity of last year’s selection process. The board in February voted to form the committee to review nominations.

The committee was to be comprised of three community members, two staff employees, two administrators, two former honorees, two Board of Education members and two high-school students.

The school board also last week backed off on a proposal to honor all former Board of Education members with the DSA.

Board Vice President Venki Palamand moved to present the Distinguished Service Award to all former board members besides the committee’s DSA honorees.

That motion was seconded by board member Micheal Ocello.

“I think it’s great that we’re honoring three former board members,” Palamand said. “There have been a lot of former board members that served over the past 20, 30 years. And I think this is a good chance to go back and remember those people who’ve served this district so selflessly for so long.”

But board member Erin Weber does not believe that a recognition of all past board members should occur along with the DSA honorees.

“I think that’s a wonderful idea that you’d like to honor past board members,” Weber said. “Although based on what we’ve talked about in our last few meetings, we all voted on and approved that for this Distinguished Service Award we were restoring integrity and transparency. And we voted on this process. We gave our power to the committee to choose this. And I think that we need to stay with what we already unanimously voted … Maybe we could have a separate board-member recognition thing on the side. But what we’ve set forth is we are going to give power to a committee to decide for us.”

Board Secretary Larry Felton added that honoring all past board members with the DSA would go against the board’s approved selection process.

“They have an opportunity to be nominated like everyone else,” he said. “Again, we established the process. And what we’re basically doing is subjugating a process that we agreed to.

“I would encourage us to just consider having a night by itself to honor people with board service. I think that would be more than appropriate.

“But I think at this kind of 11th hour to extend to them, I don’t think it’s prudent.”

Ocello emphasized that the board would not be taking away DSA honors to the three honorees, but would merely be adding that award to all past board members.

“I don’t think it takes away from them,” Ocello said. “We can say look, we’re recognizing a lot of the board members … I think it’s not cutting the legs out of that committee.”

“I sat on the committee and yes, I think it does,” Felton said.

“I think the real question is why?” Weber said. “Why do we do this?”

“Well, because we have to do some work with the community and recognizing people that have helped us,” Diehl said.

“Why seven days before the ceremony?” Weber asked.

“Why not?” Diehl replied.

“I just don’t understand why we’re going against what we already said that we were going to do,” Weber said. “We tried restoring integrity. We talked about the process.

“We looked at it all again. We all sat here and talked about it and we voted on it. And we unanimously agreed.”

“And we can also open this up at any time,” Diehl said. “That’s our right as a board to do that.”

“Is that what we’re really here for, though?” Weber said.

“To recognize people that have contributed to the district among other things and build bridges with people who may have felt like they aren’t connected to the district anymore,” Diehl said.

“Are you concerned about burning bridges in the process?” Weber asked.

“No,” Diehl said. “I don’t see how we’re burning bridges. Everybody is being recognized equally.”

“But they did not go through an equal process,” Felton said. “That’s my point.”

“They were not selected by the committee that we put in place to come up with this Distinguished Service Award,” board member Drew Frauenhoffer said. “So, if we want to recognize all board members from the past, great.

“Let’s do it. But I don’t want to call it the Distinguished Service Award,” he said.

After considerable discussion, the motion to honor past board members along with the DSA honorees was withdrawn.

Ocello said, “… But I think there’s been a lot of other ideas brought up that make a whole lot of sense. And one of them, to me, is seven days in advance if I got a call from someone right now saying: ‘I want to honor you with this great award seven days in advance,’ you didn’t give me time to clear my calendar. So I think we stand the potential of making some people feel as though we aren’t sincere in this or we’re doing it as a secondary follow-up.

“And that’s exactly the opposite of what I think you (Palamand) were getting at and what I’d like to see.”