Monday, June 22, 2015

Change of judge granted in County Commission suit, July hearing set

Judge Joseph Hensley denied a petition for a writ of mandamus against the Joplin R-8 Board of Education this morning, but a similar action against the Jasper County Commission will continue into next month.

Hensley granted the change of judge requested by the Commission this morning and a hearing has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. July 22 before Judge John Nicholas, who prior to his election as judge was the attorney for the R-8 Board.

The petition for a writ of mandamus against the Commission contains elements that were not featured in the R-8 case, primarily accusations that the County Commission violated the Sunshine Law in its deliberations over who it would appoint to replace Lane Roberts, Randy Steele, and Mike Landis, on the Board of Education.

The action against the Commission was explained in the June 15 Turner Report:

The petition begins by noting the Commission "lacked jurisdiction and authority to appoint members to the school board because no more than two vacancies existed on the board at any one time."

The same argument- that Kimbrough should have been seated when he was approved by a 3-2 margin- is made, but the allegation that the Commission violated the Sunshine Law is also included.

"The Commission chose to hold closed meetings to interview, discuss, deliberate, and vote on appointees to the Board. All such business was hidden from the public's eyes and ears. As Commissioner (John) Bartosh admitted in an interview with the Carthage Press on June 10, 2015:"

"We knew that we couldn't all go talk to people because that would be in violation of the Sunshine Law. So we all had people we were interested in putting on the board and we asked Commissioner Adams to go talk to them. He came back to us and these are who we picked. Jim Honey had some, I had some, Darieus (Adams) had some and I just don't know how many candidates we had. We all had people we wanted and we had Darieus go talk and that's who we got."

The petition continues, "It is evident from Bartosh's statement that the Commission intentionally tried to sidestep the Sunshine Law by sending only one commissioner to speak with potential candidates so as to avoid the 'quorum requirement' of the law.

"It is also clear that the meetings between Commissioner Adams and the potential appointees related to the conduct of the Commission's business and were undertaken on behalf of the entire Commission. It is also clear that the Commission deliberately sent only one Commissioner rather than a quorum when meeting with appointees for the sole purpose of avoiding the Sunshine Law."

The petition also says that the Commissioners violated the Sunshine Law "when they met privately to discuss, deliberate, and vote on the candidates whom they would appoint to the board. These discussions were not placed on any public agenda nor were they conducted at any public meeting. Instead, these decisions were made behind closed doors and later ratified at the June 11 meeting where the three appointees were publicly named and quickly sworn in. This, too, violated the Sunshine Law."

Pierce says the public interest in enforcing the Sunshine Law outweighs the public interest in having the three Board of Education appointees confirmed. "The public has a great interest in ensuring openness and transparency in the business of public governmental bodies. When those bodies operate in the shadows, public confidence and trust in the government is broken. A cloud of secrecy over local public offices was recently cast by the state audit of the Joplin School District which revealed several violations of the Sunshine Law. Such violations must cease. Further, it is imperative that the selection and appointment of board members be done openly as much is at stake for the Joplin School District in the upcoming months, including, but not limited to, the selection of an interim superintendent and selection of a permanent superintendent. These selections will significantly impact the direction of the district in the years to come."

Pierce says, "The public has a significant interest in making sure that the appointment of new board members is done openly with full compliance with the law because a large number of taxpayers, parents, and children residing in the Joplin School District live in Newton County, and those Newton County residents are disenfranchised by appointments made solely by the Jasper County Commission."


Anonymous said...

The courts will do nothing meaningful for the tax payers. The system is broken.

Anonymous said...

The board member candidates are not considered county employees. There is absolutely no provision to have a closed meeting to discuss this. If they avoided a quorum to purposely circumvent the requirement to post a meeting, their decisions should be reversed. That is why the sunshine law exists.