In a follow-up to the vote taken by the Ava R-1 School Board to fill a vacant position created by the resignation of Ann Duckworth, the Prosecuting Attorney has filed a notice with the School Board that an act of nepotism has occurred and there are now two vacancies which exist on the local School Board.
As noted in last week’s paper, it was reported that by a 4-2 vote, Vernon Johnson was selected by the Board members to fill the Duckworth vacancy. Johnson was sworn into office by Superintendent Nancy Lawler, and the Board then adjourned into closed session.
Prosecutor Wall states that the School Board minutes clearly reflect, and that several people present at the Special Board Meeting have come forward and stated that Board Member Ron Wallace cast an affirmative vote in favor of Vernon Johnson. Johnson is Wallace’s step father-in-law. Therefore, at the moment of the vote, Wallace forfeited his position for the remainder of his term, according to Wall.
Missouri, like a lot of states, has a strong anti-nepotism provision in its State’s Constitution. Article VII, Sec. 6 (Penalty for Nepotism) states: “Any public officer or employee in this State who by virtue of his office of employment names or appoints to public office or employment any relative within the fourth degree, by consanguinity or affinity (ie: blood or marriage), shall thereby forfeit (emphasis added) his office or employment.”
Wall says that the Supreme Court has recently ruled on this Constitutional provision twice. In the Shull case, 887 SW2d 397, (1994), the Court reviewed a case where the Presiding Commissioner of a three-member county commission appointed his sister-in-law, with the assent of the other two commissioners, to a non-paying position of the County Board of Trustees.
The Supreme Court considered and rejected three factors in deciding that the nepotism clause of the Missouri Constitution was indeed violated. First, the presiding commissioner’s vote was not necessary as the appointment would have passed 2-0 anyway. Second, no one else was apparently interested in the position. And finally it did not matter under the Constitution even though the position was an unpaid position.
Wall stated that he has received several complaints from the public, including present and past members of the School Board.
The Prosecutor has notified the Board that Wallace forfeited his position at the time of the vote and he is no longer a member of the Board, regardless of Wallace’s intention to resign or not to resign. And the Board has been notified in writing that if Wallace attempts to remain on the Board, that his votes are null and void, ab initio. And that, if necessary, his office will file a quo warranto proceeding to remove him from office and request attorney fees.
News Editor’s Note: For school board members, many sources detail the importance of the nepotism law. It is a rule that is emphasized to each and every candidate. Sources are readily provided, and include the following:
• Missouri School Board Assn., a publication entitled, A Candidate’s Guide to Running for the School Board, page 16, says:
“A district may employ a board member’s relative, however, the board member cannot participate in the decision and must abstain from the vote. Board members should take care to make sure the minutes of meetings in which relatives are employed or appointed clearly reflect that the Board member abstained from the vote. … Board members that violate the nepotism laws forfeit their seats. This is true even if the vote was accidental. For this reason it is extremely important that Board members identify their relatives and carefully read lists prior to participating in votes to appoint or employ.”
• Missouri Ethics Commission web site: “Nepotism is when any public officer or employee in Missouri, who by virtue of his office or employment, names or appoints to public office or employment any relative within the fourth degree by consanguinity (blood) or affinity (marriage or adoption). (Article VII, Section 6 of the Missouri Constitution).
• Missouri Ethics Commission: “The penalty for nepotism is automatic forfeiture of office. Legal action may be pursued to remove the individual from office or employment.
• School Board Member Code of Ethics ––Item No. 14 states: “School board members refrain from using their Board position for the benefit of family members, business associates or themselves.”
• Missouri Ethics Commission also provides the nepotism chart on their web site. The Relationship Chart delineates in detail the 1st – 4th degrees of family relationships, with explanations on consanguinity and affinity.
• The nepotism law information is taught during the board member training held in Jefferson City.
• The information is also included in the Ava handbook for school board members.