Sunday, April 19, 2015
The battle for control of Joplin R-8 Board continues
Voters sent a loud and clear message that they were tired of all spin, all the time and "might-as-well' spending April 7 when they elected Jeff Koch, Jennifer Martucci, and Lane Roberts to the Board of Education.
The voters were fully aware that Roberts, the new head of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, was never going to serve on the board- they didn't care. All they knew was they did not want Board President Anne Sharp to be on the board for another three years.
For the second straight year, Superintendent C. J. Huff interfered in the race, doing so even more blatantly than he had in the 2014 election. Jennifer Martucci was going to win the one-year seat; all signs pointed in that direction. When Huff released a personal e-mail message she had sent him two years earlier and publicly hinted that she was a snob who did not care about all children, he may have picked up a vote or two from those who were upset by the content of Martucci's e-mail, but he turned what would have been a win into a landslide.
The election was also a repudiation of the Joplin Progress Committee, the same people who gave Joplin Wallace-Bajjali and has made clear its preference that the school district continue to be run as it has been during the C. J. Huff era.
No candidate could have been more of a symbol for the Joplin Progress Committee than Nancy Good. Good, the chairman of Bright Futures USA and a charter member of the Progress Committee, not only lost to Martucci, but Martucci had more votes than Good and Melinda Campbell combined.
The message was clear- things have to change in the Joplin R-8 School District.
Some people did not get the message. The plotting to keep control of the school district began immediately after the votes were counted and will continue when the new Board of Education is seated Tuesday night.
The problems began with the scramble to get Jeff Koch sworn in. Koch, who was the top vote-getter and whose message of stressing academics and getting spending under control resonated with the electorate, has a business meeting in Washington, D. C. Tuesday, the date of the regular board meeting. Though he will be able to participate in the meeting via Skype, it was known from the start that other arrangements would have to be made to officially make him a part of the board.
The problem should have been simple to solve- special board meetings are called on a regular basis for any number of reasons. But under board rules, the only one who can call a special session is the board president and Anne Sharp was not inclined to call one.
Then the idea was floated by board member Jim Kimbrough, who did not seek re-election after serving three terms, to have the swearing-in take place before the dedication ceremonies for the Joplin High School Performing Arts Center earlier this week.
C. J. Huff fought the idea. It wouldn't be right, Huff said, because the dedication ceremony was "for the kids." Never mind that part of the activities included tours of the high school (something the kids do every day) and never mind that election and official swearing-in of new board members should be a reason for celebration since it is proof that we have a system in which the power is placed in the hands of the people.
Finally, seeing he did not have much of an option, Huff agreed to allow the ceremony to take place before the dedication.
There was little fanfare as Koch and Martucci were sworn in, but the event was not without drama. Though all board members had been informed of the time and place for the ceremony, only three attended- Debbie Fort, Jim Kimbrough, and Anne Sharp.
Board members Randy Steele and Lynda Banwart arrived later for the dedication ceremony. Mike Landis and Shawn McGrew were no-shows.
And though Jeff Koch and Jennifer Martucci will be his bosses, C. J. Huff failed to make an appearance either.
When it came time for Koch and Martucci to sign the required paperwork making their arrival on the board official, Board Secretary Janet Waldo had no documents for them. It could be handled at the regular board meeting on Tuesday, April 21, she said.
Only Jeff Koch would be in the nation's capital at that time, unable to sign the papers and Tuesday, April 21, is the last day that he could do so since the documents must be signed within 14 days of the election or Koch would not be able to take his place on the board.
Waldo indicated she had been told not to bring the papers.
Fortunately, expecting problems to occur, the candidates had brought the paperwork themselves and signed them. Board Attorney Norman Rouse was there to witness the signing.
The signing of the paperwork does not end the games.
After the seating of the new Board of Education, officers will be selected and the choice of president is critical. One of the first items of business will be setting up a procedure for filling the Lane Roberts seat until April 2016. If the vote ends up 3-3, the board president casts the deciding ballot.
While much of the early speculation centered on efforts to keep Anne Sharp on the board, that is appearing more and more unlikely, since that would be a slap in the face to the wide majority of voters who indicated they not only did not want Sharp, who has been on the board since 2000, to represent them any longer, but they were willing to vote for someone who had already said he would not serve even if elected.
Shawn McGrew, who was appointed to serve after Dawn Sticklen's resignation and did not file, indicated some interest shortly after the election, but was advised that he was unlikely to receive the appointment.
Names that have surfaced include Joplin Progress Committee leader Jerrod Hogan and another reputed Progress Committee favorite,former Joplin R-8 Board of Education member Ashley Micklethwaite, who was board president when the Joplin Tornado hit and participated in the decision to give C. J. Huff complete power to make decisions without asking for the board's approval. Micklethwaite resigned from the board when her job took her out of Joplin.
Jim Kimbrough, after initially rebuffing efforts to interest him in returning to the board for one year, has indicated he might be willing to serve.