While I was pleasantly surprised by The Joplin Globe's decision to endorse Claire McCaskill for governor, I was not surprised by the vehement reaction that choice brought from former State Representative T. Mark Elliott of Carl Junction.
In his letter to the editor in today's paper, Elliott railed against the Globe endorsement, saying it went against everything the newspaper had stood for in the past.
"Shame on you for endorsing Claire McCaskill for governor," Elliott began. The former legislator refers to Ms. McCaskill as being one of "Bob Griffin's lapdogs" referring to the former Speaker of the House. "McCaskill represents everything that is wrong with state government."
While Elliot is entitled to his opinion, he is the last one who should be casting stones at Claire McCaskill or at anyone else.
During a spirited re-election battle against challenger Steve Hunter in 1998, Elliott accepted campaign contributions from seven lobbyists, two lobbyists' wives and more than 20 political action committees, many of them representing big business interests.
There is nothing illegal about accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists, but it must have embarrassed Elliott because none of them were listed as lobbyists on the portion of the disclosure form that requires the occupation of contributors.
Even while Elliott was accepting these contributions, he was filing a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission because Hunter had accepted a $2,000 personal loan. "THIS committee DOES NOT ACCEPT LOANS as contributions," Elliott wrote proudly on his campaign form.
Among those contributing to Elliott's campaign were former State Representative Jerry Burch, listed as being with Burch and Associates. Burch worked as a lobbyist once he left the legislature, representing, among other groups, the Branson Chamber of Commerce, City Utilities of Springfield, the County Commissioners Association of Missouri, Southwest Missouri State University, and the Missouri Hospital Association. Burch contributed $200.
Contributing $250, to Elliott was J. Scott Marrs, Springfield, lobbyist at the time for Bass Pro Shops, Branson Chamber of Commerce, City of Springfield, City Utilities of Springfield, MCI, and the Missouri Hospital Association. Marrs was listed as a "government consultant."
Mark J. Rhoads, Jefferson City, gave the maximum (at that time) $275. He represented AT&T, Anheuser-Busch, the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, City of Joplin, General American Life Insurance Company, Leggett & Platt and St. Joseph Riverboat. He was also listed as a government consultant.
Rhoads' wife, Kristy L. Rhoads, listed as a housewife, also gave the maximum $275 contribution.
Another government consultant, Brent Hemphill, Jefferson City, donated $100. His clients included City of Joplin, General American Life Insurance Company, Missouri Telecommunications Coalition, Missouri Insurance Coalition, and St. Joseph Riverboat.
Randy Scherr, Jefferson City, listed as an "executive director" was a registered lobbyist, whose client list included Lambert St. Louis International Airport, Prudential Insurance, RCA Mutual Insurance and Southwestern Bell. He contributed $250.
Elliott received a $125 contribution from Juanita Pierce, listed as a housewife, whose husband was lobbyist Jack Pierce, who represented Missouri Credit Union System, Missouri Highway Transportation and Highway Patrol, the Missouri Sheriffs Association and the Missouri Employee Retirement System.
Jeff Leeka, who contributed $75, was listed as a district manager, but it was not mentioned for what company he worked in that capacity. At that time, he had that post at Empire District Electric Company, and was also a registered lobbyist for Empire District.
Michael G. Winter, listed as a "self-employed government consultant on Elliott's disclosure form, was also listed on the National Lobbyist Directory. Among his clients were the Riverboat Gaming Association, Columbia Health Care Association, GTE, Missouri Self-Insurers Association and the Life Insurance Association of Missouri.
While I was reviewing my files from six years ago, I discovered I missed another contribution from a lobbyist's wife. Deborah Deutsch, Jefferson City, who contributed the maximum $275, is the wife of lobbyist James Deutsch, who represents the Southwest Casino and Hotel Corporation.
Elliott also received large contributions from the Missouri Insurance Coalition, KC Life Employees PAC, Shelter Insurance PAC, Sprint of Missouri PAC, Missouri Soft Drink Association, KC Power and Light, Missouri Businesses for Good Government, Rural Telecommunications, GTE Good Government Club, Savings Association of Missouri, Conservative Committee of Southwest Missouri, Committee for Political Action for Missouri CPAs, University of Missouri PAC, Realtors PAC of Missouri, American Family Insurance PAC, Missouri Right-to-Life PAC, and a number of individual contributors from this area including several with ties to Leggett & Platt.
Elliott has every right to state his opinion, but considering his efforts to hide the true employment status of some of his contributors, it seems in rather poor taste for him to refer to anyone as someone's "lapdog."
While going through my files, I came across a startling piece of information. Last week marked 10 years since the death of Peggy Hillman from complications from an automobile accident.
People who still enjoy the beauty of Lamar High School, even though that facility is nearing 20 years old, can thank Mrs. Hillman. During the mid-1980s, school officials were planning on a patchwork approach to building that would have added a little here and a little there, but Mrs. Hillman had a much greater vision.
Former R-1 Superintendent Barbara Burns told me shortly after Mrs. Hillman's death on Oct. 27, 1994, "She was the one who suggested that we think bigger, that we go for a new high school."
Mrs. Hillman, who was the daughter of another visionary thinker, Tom O'Sullivan, not only came up with the idea, but she sold it to the public. She headed the steering committee that brought in the issue with nearly 80 percent of the vote, something that was nearly unheard of.
"Without Peggy Hillman," Mrs. Burns said, "we would not have this high school. It's a tribute to her efforts." I was there at the meeting when she proposed the high school idea and at a couple of meetings of the steering committee. She was a tireless worker.
The same thing was true in everything else she did in the community and in her church. She was the driving force behind the establishment of the Jubilee Handbell Choir at the First Baptist Church. That choir later became the first such group to perform the National Anthem before a Kansas City Royals ballgame.
She was only 48 when she died, far too young.
One of the hardest working teachers at Diamond Middle School (with all of the turnover I don't know many of them any more, but I'll stick by this statement) is Mrs. Renee Jones, who teachers language arts.
In addition to her regular teaching duties, she has been Middle School Student Council sponsor for the past six years. The R-4 School District does not pay her a stipend for the time she puts in on that task. For the first few years she did it, she did not receive a cent. For the past three or four years, she has been reimbursed through the State of Missouri's Career Ladder program.
That will not be the case this year.
Middle School Administrator Danny DeWitt told the R-4 Board of Education two weeks ago that he had found out at a Career Ladder meeting in Monett that middle school student council would no longer be eligible for Career Ladder funding.
DeWitt asked the board to consider paying a stipend to Mrs. Jones. This should have been a no-brainer, even for this school board. As you might guess, it wasn't. They asked DeWitt to provide them with more information at the next board meeting.
During the time I was at Diamond Middle School, Mrs. Jones had the student council doing far more than the high school student council (and Diamond High School has a pretty hard working student council).
The group sponsored two dances each year (three the last year I was there), supplied toys at Christmas to the Lafayette House, Ronald McDonald House, and the Joplin Boys and Girls Club, helped the organizers of Project CAT, held two book drives for the new middle school library, that brought in more than 3,000 books, sang Christmas Carols throughout the community, took care of the marquee in front of the school, read the daily bulletin over the intercom, and provided gifts and goodies for teachers during National Teachers Week.
The group also sponsored essay and short story contests, sponsored school assemblies, helped with Red Ribbon Week, and offered an Ambassador Program to welcome new students into the school district.
They raised money and put it back into the school, buying a digital camera for use at school events, planting a tree for former student Kelsee Anderson, who died in a fire, and sponsoring a Spirit Week each year.
And that is just a partial list.
Before the middle school moved into the old high school building three years ago, it financed many of its efforts through sales from a pop machine. The council was told that it would have the proceeds from four machines when it moved into its new building. Since the one pop machine had brought in more than $900, the council was looking forward to putting the money back into the school and truly making a difference.
Thanks to Superintendent Mark Mayo, that plan was sidetracked. Mayo diverted all but $600 from the pop machine money to cover money that had been allegedly cut from the athletic department. In the end, even though he was claiming that the athletic department had been treated the same as all other departments when the budget cuts made, the pop machine money covered the shortfall.
Renee Jones didn't sit around and bemoan the obvious injustice of Mayo's actions as some would have. She came up with the idea of having the council selling snacks in the concession stand before school. The council members worked diligently and were able to raise enough money during that year to hold three dances (one more than usual) and buy a number of items for the school.
I don't know how many times I had Diamond High School students who were on the high school student council tell me they had been a little disappointed because they were used to doing so many activities in middle school student council and doing so many things to help other people because that is what Mrs. Jones believes student government should be about.
There was no record in the minutes of Mayo supporting the request for a stipend for Mrs. Jones. Of course, this is the same man who wanted to pay a stipend for Football Coach Brad Hocker and the basketball coach whose name escapes me to keep the weight room open in the summer. He wanted to pay for it by eliminating the cheerleading sponsor. Fortunately, the board didn't go for that.
I probably shouldn't back Danny DeWitt's proposal since that will likely stir Mayo's paranoia and he will believe that DeWitt is one of the legions of people who are plotting against them. (Actually, it's not paranoia when everyone IS against you.) If the board fails to authorize a stipend for Mrs. Jones, or fails to make it a sizable one, it is once again sending the message of what it thinks is important. After all, the student council is a year-long worthwhile activity that puts a lot back into the school. The taxpayers have paid four-figure stipends to coaches for football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball and golf, and pay something like $800 a year for middle school assistant coaches. At the same time, it paid $200 as of a couple of years ago to the people who run the high school academic team (which competes all year long) and pay nothing to the middle school academic advisor (that is left to Career Ladder).
This decision probably isn't going to be carefully watched by people in the R-4 School District, but it should be. It's this kind of decision that tells you what a school board really stands for.
Renee Jones is the type of teacher the district should be proud to have on its faculty. A stipend for student council is the least the board can do. It's an embarrassment that it needs a month to consider it.
If you would like to get an idea of what the Diamond Middle School Student Council has done in the past, take a look at my original Wildcat Central site (not the one I am currently using). You can find the Student Council page, as well as a number of articles on the Diamond Daily and Archives pages at http://rturner229.tripod.com/wildcatcentral/
(And while you're at it, take a look at the content on that site, which the district received for free, then compare it to the "official" district website at www.diamondwildcats.org )