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Former head of Missouri Humanities Council says he’s suing after ouster

Former head of Missouri Humanities Council says he’s suing after ouster

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JEFFERSON CITY — The former chief of the Missouri Humanities Council said he is preparing to file a lawsuit arguing he was wrongfully terminated earlier this month.

William “Steve” Belko of O’Fallon told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday that the board overseeing the state-funded nonprofit agency fired him without warning on Nov. 1, ending his seven years at the helm of the cultural organization.

His replacement, Acting Director Ashley Beard-Fosnow, said last week that the board had directed her to say Belko had submitted his resignation to pursue other work.

“That’s not even remotely true. It’s crazy,” said Belko, 53. “I never submitted anything.”

He said the board’s vote came as he was on a family vacation. He is unsure why he was ousted but plans to sue for discrimination and wrongful termination.

“I’m not being vindictive. They do owe me a severance,” Belko said.

Last week, Beard-Fosnow was tight-lipped on the reason for the leadership change.

“If we’re digging into the weeds of personnel stuff, there’s a lot I can’t discuss there,” Beard-Fosnow said. “It’s tricky because I want to give everyone as much information as I can.”

Since 2018, the council has operated under the umbrella of the Missouri lieutenant governor’s office.

Through a spokesperson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said he did not play any role in the changes.

But, Kehoe added, “I am excited about the future of the Humanities Council and look forward to working with the new executive director and the board of directors to accomplish their important mission.”

Kehoe said he is “confident in the board’s decision that (Beard-Fosnow) is the right leader to build upon the good and important work of her predecessor.”

Beard-Fosnow had been serving as deputy director of the council before she was hired by the organization’s board of directors for the top job. She has been with the council for more than two years and is the seventh director of the organization, which was founded in 1971.

She said the organization will continue its programs aimed at highlighting Missouri’s cultural heritage and history, including a 50th anniversary gala at Forest Park in St. Louis on Nov. 20.

The change came as the board of directors named a new chairwoman. Marilyn Bradford of Jefferson City, who was appointed to the post by Gov. Mike Parson, took over for John Robinson III, who had been on the board since 2016 and was elected chairman in 2018.

Prior to his tenure in Missouri, Belko was a history professor. Before obtaining his doctoral degree, he was a regional director of the Missouri Secretary of State from 1993 to 1996. He graduated from Quincy Senior High School in Quincy, Illinois, in 1986.

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