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Ricker's information on closed-session vote incorrect

Superintendent Tim Ricker provided the Call with incorrect information regarding a recent closed-session vote of the Mehlville Board of Education to enter into negotiations with the Lechner Realty Group for an exclusive 90-day listing of the St. John's Elementary School campus.

Ricker wrote in a Dec. 19 fax sent to the Call that the Board of Education voted unanimously Dec. 15 in a closed session to enter into negotiations with the Lechner Realty Group for an exclusive 90-day listing contract for the St. John's Elementary School campus. Despite the listing, board members have not approved the sale of the property, according to Ricker.

During a Dec. 18 interview, Ricker was asked to provide details surrounding the closed session vote. During a followup conversation, a Call staffer requested a written statement from Ricker clarifying the board's action. But the faxed statement Ricker provided to the Call contained discrepancies about which board member made the motion to enter into negotiations for the listing contract and which board member seconded the motion.

During the interview, Ricker told the Call that board Vice President Matthew Chellis made the motion to enter into negotiations with Lechner Realty and board member Bill Schornheuser seconded it. But the fax Ricker sent to the Call Dec. 19 indicated that board member Rita Diekemper made the motion, while board member Mike Heins had seconded it.

Asked to clarify the discrepancy between the information gathered during the interview and the fax he had sent, Patrick Wallace, school/community relations director, told the Call Dec. 22 that he had contacted Ricker and Ricker said the information contained in the faxed statement was correct. However, the newspaper received a second fax from Ricker the afternoon of Dec. 22 — after the Call went to press — that stated Chellis made the motion and Schornheuser seconded it and that Ricker had been mistaken in his previous fax.

"The fax that I sent you Friday, December 19, 2003, was incorrect," Ricker stated in the Dec. 22 fax.

"The motion and vote that was faxed over to you on Friday (Dec. 19) was the authorization of the Board of Education to begin negotiations at the November 17, 2003, closed session with Lechner Realty. The listing agreement was still being negotiated before the Board of Education approved a contract at the December 15, 2003 meeting," according to the Dec. 22 fax. "I am sorry if this causes any problems at this time ...''

While the superintendent previously had told the Call the board had discussed in closed session "contracting'' with the Lechner Realty Group, he did not formally disclose the Nov. 17 vote to begin negotiations with the firm until the Dec. 22 fax.

Ricker also had refused to release the exact wording of the Dec. 15 closed session vote, claiming that names included in the motion, if disclosed, could have an adverse effect on the sale of the St. John's property.

Ricker's most recent fax, however, did include the "entire motion as it stands in the minutes for the December 15 closed session," but no names, other than what already had been disclosed to the Call, are included in the motion.

"Mr. Matt Chellis made a motion, seconded by Mr. Bill Schornheuser to extend an exclusive listing contract to Lechner Realty Group Inc., for the sale of St. John School campus as negotiated by the district and the district's attorney, upon the terms and condition set forth by the document to the Board of Education, a copy of which has been attached to these official minutes and incorporated herein and to authorize the superintendent to execute said documents on behalf of Mehlville School District," according to Ricker's statement to the Call dated Dec. 22.

The document referred to in the motion, the contract between the district and Lechner Realty, was not attached to Ricker's statement that was sent to the Call.

Wallace said last Saturday that after speaking with Ricker, he would not release a copy of the approved contract because it was not public information and could not yet be disclosed.

"That property has not been sold, however, the contract includes information that would adversely affect the sale of the property," Wallace told the Call. "It won't be released until they sell or don't sell the property or buy or don't buy the property."

Wallace said district lawyers have been contacted and have advised Ricker that withholding the contract from the public does not violate the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law.

Board members will wait until input has been gathered from public forums, tentatively scheduled for February, before they decide whether to sell the St. John's property, according to Ricker.

Governmental bodies are permitted to conduct closed sessions, according to the Sunshine Law, to discuss the "leasing, purchase or sale of real estate ... where public knowledge of the transaction might adversely affect the legal consideration therefor."

The Sunshine Law also states that it is Missouri's public policy that meetings, records, votes, actions and deliberations of public governmental bodies will be open to the public, unless otherwise stated by law and "shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy."

Site development problems were discovered several months ago, according to Ricker, at St. John's Elementary School, which was scheduled to be razed to make room for the construction of a new early childhood center.

In formulating a facilities master plan more than three years ago, the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities recommended that St. John's Elementary School be razed and a new early childhood center be constructed on the Will Avenue site.

In August 2000, the Board of Education voted to accept the facilities master plan, which was placed on the Nov. 15, 2000, ballot as the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program. Mehlville voters approved a 49-cent tax-rate increase to fund Proposition P, then estimated to cost nearly $68.4 million. The board this fall approved a revised Proposition P budget totaling more than $86.7 million.

Administrators now say aesthetic and access concerns will cause site development costs to be greater than anticipated at the St. John's campus and are seeking other possible locations. About a month ago, Proposition P Oversight Committee members publicly asked administrators to seek public input regarding potential problems that could prevent the construction of a new early childhood center on the site.

But board members approved the listing contract Dec. 15, putting St. John's up for sale. Ricker would not reveal how much the district will pay Lechner Realty.

"In that contract is confidential information that could reveal on pricing, so that we're not going to be releasing the details of some of the components of that," Ricker previously told the Call.

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