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Christopher prohibits public comments about another school board member

Mehlville Board of Education President Cindy Christopher recently prohibited an Oakville resident from discussing a school board member during an open period for comments.

During the board's April 27 meeting, Christopher addressed comments made by Karl Frank Jr. about School/Community Relations Director Patrick Wallace during the board's previous meeting.

Frank, an unsuccessful candidate in April's school board election, alleged at the board's April 13 meeting that Wallace had worked the polls and campaigned for the election's top two vote-getters, incumbent Rita Diekemper and board member Tom Correnti.

Frank questioned how Wallace, as a public official, ethically could campaign for school board members and then challenged the notion of Diekemper or Correnti ever being able to vote on matters involving Wallace's employment with the district without it being perceived as a conflict of interest. In response to inquiries by Frank and this newspaper, Wallace declined to answer whether he worked the polls on behalf of Correnti and Diekemper.

Asked two weeks ago by the Call if Frank's comments at the April 13 meeting posed any concerns for the board, Christopher told the Call she would not comment because it was a personnel issue.

However, Christopher began the period for open comment of the board's April 27 meeting by saying, "I would like to take a moment to publicly apologize to Patrick Wallace and his family. I allowed statements that I believe were inappropriate to be said at the last meeting in the open period ... With that said, I will call the first person who is signed up, which is Karl Frank. Mr. Frank, before you speak, I would like to caution you that you must follow the rules. There is no wavering. If you have an issue with a specific person or a student, you must do that in a different venue. This is not the venue."

Frank proceeded to discuss "groupthink,'' a concept that refers to faulty decision making by a group, during the open period for comments.

"I attempted to discuss this topic with school board member Mike Heins via e-mail. His response was extremely unprofessional ..." Frank said, until Christopher interrupted, saying, "You know what, if you are going to address an individual, you will need to do that in private."

Frank responded, "He's a representative of the Mehlville school board. I feel I should be able to finish my sentence."

Christopher said, "If you would like to discuss in general terms, you may do that ... You cannot name individuals in this venue."

"OK. I will not name individuals. Can I carry on?" Frank asked.

"Carefully," Christopher said.

Frank then described the e-mail correspondence from the "board member" as disrespectful and laden with personal attacks.

Some of the comments made by the school board member included, "You really need some attention, don't you?" and comments "regarding the size of my gut," Frank said.

"Since I feel being addressed as 'Frankie' is inappropriate and unbecoming of an elected official of the Mehlville School District, I decided the best way to address the board was, in fact, not via e-mail,'' he added.

Frank submitted to the board documents with information on groupthink — the tendency of highly cohesive groups to value consensus at the price of decision quality, according to his comments to the board.

"This defines better than anything else, my major criticism of the decision-making ability of this board of education," he said. "... I also happen to think that groupthink was the major contributing factor in the problems and overages with Proposition P. This is what I mean when I say self-awareness is a very important part of your job. As a director of the Mehlville Board of Education, a 4-3 vote should not be considered negative. It is a positive display of an effective democracy in action."

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