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Senate plan targets Greitens over school board fight

Senate plan targets Greitens over school board fight

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JEFFERSON CITY • A Missouri senator has again put Gov. Eric Greitens’ in the crosshairs over the governor’s push to oust the state’s top school leader.

In legislation debated by a Senate committee Wednesday, Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, argued that the governor overstepped his bounds when he appointed members to the state Board of Education last year in order to gain enough votes to fire school Commissioner Margie Vandeven.

“The process was not properly used,” Romine told members of the Senate Government Reform Committee.

Under Romine’s proposal, the governor would be barred from using many of the tactics he employed to stack the school board and other commissions with his appointees. For example, he would have to inform the Senate of any appointments made to state boards or commissions when the General Assembly is not in session.

Beginning in July, Greitens appointed 10 individuals to the state board, which oversees policies affecting the state’s 900,000 school children. Of those 10, two declined the appointments and one resigned saying he was being pressured to fire Vandeven. Two others were removed by the Republican governor after they said they were being pushed to remove the commissioner.

In December, with some of the board’s membership still in flux, the board met behind closed doors and voted 5-3 to fire Vandeven, setting off at least two lawsuits  over how the appointment process was manipulated by Greitens.

The five Greitens appointees, Jennifer Edwards, Eddy Justice, Doug Russell, Marvin Jungmeyer and Eric Teeman, are awaiting confirmation by the Senate. Romine has said he will use his filibuster powers to block the confirmation process.

For now, without the new members being confirmed, the state board cannot meet because of a lack of a quorum.

“Right now, we don’t even have a functioning state school board,” said Mike Lodewegen, associate executive director of government affairs for the Missouri Association of School Administrators. “This process is broken. It needs some review.”

In addition to the school board changes, Greitens also used his appointment power to place his picks on the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which then carried out his plan to cut off state funding for low-income housing tax credits.

Facing backlash from the Senate, Greitens last week withdrew three of the housing commission appointees.

The governor also appointed new members to the Missouri Veterans Commission, who then forced the executive director, Larry Kay, to resign amid problems at the St. Louis Veterans Home.

Romine’s proposed changes would slow down the appointment process and require more transparency when a governor names members to the scores of boards and commissions that oversee state laws and regulations.

School groups, who supported keeping Vandeven in her post, said Romine’s proposal would be a good step toward reigning in a governor’s appointment power.

“We want to make sure the process works,” said Mike Reid, associate executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association.

“It is critically important that this issue be resolved,” added Otto Fajen, legislative director for the Missouri National Education Association.

No one spoke in opposition of the measure. The governor’s office did not testify on the proposal and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The legislation is Senate Bill 794.

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