What were some members of the Hickman Mills School District Board of Education thinking? Ignoring their own rules on school board vacancies by trying to seat a candidate who just lost in last week’s municipal election is no way to conduct business.
If voters wanted ousted board member Clifford Ragan III to represent them, they would have chosen him as one of the three candidates who won seats April 4. Instead, the people favored incumbents Irene Kendrick and Byron Townsend, along with newcomer Brandon Wright.
For some reason, Carol Graves, board president, thought it was wise to push Ragan through, with a plot to have him resign from his current seat before the end of his term so he could be appointed to fill an open spot — and without a public notice, as required by board policy.
We asked Graves to explain why she fought so hard for Ragan to stay on the school board. On Thursday, she replied: “I’m just one vote. As board president, I’m able to make a recommendation. But it’s a board decision. They don’t have to accept my recommendation.”
First order of business for the Hickman Mills school board is seating the three duly-elected board members at its meeting next week.
Next, the school board must consider new leadership if Graves continues to push for Ragan’s appointment. Graves sets the agenda. She has to be steady. All eyes are on the district as it progresses toward regaining its state academic accreditation. Any appearance of impropriety could get in the way of that important milestone.
Trying to seat a board member the voters rejected is not a ringing endorsement of Graves’ leadership style. And pushing the candidate through without the required public notice is utterly unacceptable.
“This indicates that the school board has a long way to go in good governance,” said Wright, the lone newcomer to the board. “That is why I ran.” And won.
The board must work with community stakeholders to fill the seat left by former member Terri Barr-Moore’s recent resignation when she moved out of the district. And the body should follow its own policies for filling that vacancy. Residents deserve a say in who that appointed member is.
During a special meeting Tuesday evening, only Graves, Townsend and fellow board member Ann Coleman showed. Kendrick and current member Beth Boerger did not. Good for them — because no quorum meant no way to proceed with Graves’ half-baked plan to install Ragan in Barr-Moore’s vacant spot.
Earlier this year, former board member DaRon McGee left to join the Jackson County Legislature. Ragan was appointed to fill McGee’s seat. A public notice went out for that opening — so why not for the latest? Because the district’s policy gives the board an option to expedite the process to fill a vacancy, Graves told us Thursday.
Without community input, that policy might need to be adjusted.
Emails shed light on Carol Graves’ motives
Copies of emails that we read from Graves, Hickman Mills Superintendent Yaw Obeng and other board members shed light onto Graves’ motives.
She wanted Ragan to stay on because he has school board experience, according to messages we saw. A full board looks good on paper, too, Graves wrote. Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary Education officials appreciate “good governance,” in her words.
Ragan was never voted into office, though. He was appointed to fill a vacancy. When he came before Hickman Mills voters, they said no thanks. Are Graves and the rest of the school board listening?
Would Graves continue to pursue Ragan’s appointment after other board members balked? “I can’t answer that,” she replied.
In an email to the school board, Obeng said the state education department’s legal team was reviewing their antics. “This is not good to bring this unnecessary attention,” he wrote. Sure isn’t.
Obeng, through a district spokesman, declined to comment, but the email correspondence we read speaks loudly.
Voters should be encouraged that this plan never hatched, even though there’s no rule against it, state education officials told us.
Still, the voters rejected Clifford Ragan III’s service. Carol Graves and the Hickman Mills school board cannot ignore that.