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E-mail latest Mehlville attempt to stifle criticism, candidate says

An e-mail written by a Mehlville Board of Education member is the district's latest attempt to stifle public criticism or comment, according to a candidate seeking a seat on the school board.

Board member Bill Schornheuser last week sent an e-mail to five board members and five administrators, wanting to know what the school board "could do" regarding, a Web site paid for and run by Karl Frank Jr. — one of the three candidates seeking a seat on the Board of Education in the upcoming election.

Incumbent Rita Diekemper and Tom Correnti also are running in the April 6 school board election. The three candidates are vying for two seats that carry three-year terms.

And, according to Frank, this is not the first time that Schornheuser has attempted to silence him.

The day before candidate filing ended, Frank said Schornheuser telephoned him, tried to discourage him from running and told Frank that he had until 5 p.m. the next day to take his name off the ballot.

Frank's Web site, which he is using to promote his campaign, includes various entries that he has written, some of which criticize Mehlville board members and administrators. The Web site also includes a public forum or "blog," in which viewers of the site can write comments in response to Frank's campaign or statements posted on the site. Those comments then are displayed and available to anyone who views the site.

Schornheuser addressed an e-mail discussing the site March 11 to Superintendent Tim Ricker and Assistant Superintendent of Finance Randy Charles, but also sent copies of the communication to three other administrators and five other board members. Richard Huddleston was the only board member who did not receive the e-mail.

Schornheuser requested in his e-mail that district attorneys look into any legal issues surrounding the public forum.

"I have captured some of the information that is on Mr. Frank's Web site. I would like to understand the truth behind each of these statements," Schornheuser wrote. "I would also like to understand what we (as a board or board member) can or cannot do regarding the open forum/open comment format that Mr. Frank is suggesting within his Web site.

"I think that the best person to answer this question would be our legal team. I would hope that they would review this type of forum/format so that each of us understand any issues. I would also hope that someone would sit down with Mr. Frank very soon and talk with him about possible issues with his forum/format,'' the e-mail stated.

Schornheuser had attached two electronic documents to his e-mail sent to 10 district officials last Thursday. Both files were excerpts from Frank's site, one of which was posted the same day Schornheuser e-mailed his request to Ricker and Charles.

That article listed 11 of Frank's observations of Proposition P, a districtwide building improvement program. Frank's article, "Proposition P in a Nutshell, Well, a Little Bigger than a Nutshell," identified budget overages, oversight and Board of Education involvement throughout the course of Proposition P, from implementation to the present.

"This is just an overview. There are hours and hours of possible typing and discussion on the sloppiness, the fiscal irresponsibility and the failure of full disclosure to the public," according to Frank's article. "... The true cost of this is the public's confidence in those who are handling our money. The true cost will come when we try and pass another tax increase and the public looks right back at the administration and says, 'Ya right, that is what you said last time and look what you did.'"

Contacted about the e-mail on the afternoon of March 11, Schornheuser told the Call he would comment on his request the following day when he had sufficient time to respond. However, he did not call back before the Call's press time.

District administrators also declined to comment on the e-mail.

The Call had not requested any comments from district administrators until being called by Charles, who also serves as the district's chief financial officer.

Charles telephoned the Call last Friday, requesting a copy of Schornheuser's e-mail. When asked for comment on the district's response to the e-mail, Charles told the Call he would contact Ricker, who was out of town, before he would answer this newspaper's questions.

Later that afternoon, Charles told the Call Ricker wanted to consult with attorneys before offering any comments, but the Call could submit questions in writing to Ricker. The Call declined to submit any questions in writing to Ricker.

Frank believes that his Web site, which questions the conduct of those who lead the district, "threatens the board's stability" and Schornheuser's e-mail shows that it is "politics as usual" for the Mehlville board, Frank told the Call.

"The e-mail by Mr. Schornheuser offers specific proof of another instance in a long line of behind-the-scenes business transactions that take place without the public's knowledge," he stated. "During the last three years in particular, unannounced meetings have been conducted in electronic form via e-mail. This e-mail answers why you hear practically no dialogue between the board members during a standard board meeting."

"The e-mail is another example of the kind of shady, behind-the-scenes business transactions that the administration should have stopped a long time ago. The failure to do so and their willingness to participate is a blow to their credibility and increases my doubts that they are the best people for the job,'' he added.

Questions are good, but Schornheuser's questions should have been raised during an open board meeting, Frank contended.

"Who knows how many replies were made to this particular e-mail by the recipients? What was discussed? Who said what? The issue itself should have been raised in public as an agenda item. If it was, we would know the discussion. We would know who really has a problem with a public forum being made available on the Web and who does not."

Frank also discussed with the Call a telephone call he received from Schornheuser.

Schornheuser called Frank Jan. 19 — the day before filing for school board and municipal elections ended for the April 6 election.

Frank was the third candidate to file, after Diekemper and Correnti.

"He (Schornheuser) called me the day before filing ended and said I had until 5 p.m. that day to take my name off of the ballot," Frank told the Call, noting that Schornheuser had emphasized to him that Correnti was a member of the Mehlville Senior High School Fathers' Club and an announcer at Mehlville football games.

"He asked me a couple of times if I was sure I was going to run," Frank continued. "I said, 'Definitely.' I was in it to win. He said, 'You're going to have to run a really hard campaign.' And I said I planned on doing everything I could to win — I would utilize every resource possible. Then he said, 'You're going to need to' or 'That's what it's going to take.'"

Schornheuser's next comments, Frank told the Call, surprised him enough to make him temporarily second-guess his decision to seek election.

"I don't think he wanted me to run," Frank said. "There was a general consensus that the board was happy with (incumbent) Rita (Diekemper) and Tom (Correnti) running. He (Schornheuser) pointed out it would cost the district money to hold an election," he said, noting his participation in the election would cause three candidates to run for two positions.

Under state law, school boards now do not have to conduct elections if candidates are unopposed.

"So, not only was he (Schornheuser) happy with Rita (Diekemper) and Tom (Correnti) running, I also was going to cost the district money," he said. "I felt a little bad for running for a few minutes.

"He also asked me if I believed everything I read in the Oakville Call. And I said I am generally skeptical of everything I read. I told him I wanted to see for myself and that's why I am running ..."

But when referring to the Call reports on the Proposition P budget, Frank said, "I also told him numbers speak for themselves."

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