Superintendent no friend of the First Amendment
"Call the Tune" by Mike Anthony
Readers who call us each week, for the most part, are very pleased with the coverage we provide about all aspects of south county.
Many times readers compliment our coverage of local schools and boards of education as one of our strong points, citing the informative and unbiased information we provide.
Some readers who call us say they appreciate the impartial news stories we publish, but they're just as glad that we have an opinions page on which we're willing to take a public stance on issues affecting south county. They like our interpretation and commentary on issues and decisions by elected and appointed officials that directly affect them.
Unfortunately, however, some people cannot distinguish between the content of a news story and the content of an opinion column published on an opinions page.
We can only conclude that Mehlville School District Superintendent Tim Ricker is one of those people as he laments in a letter in today's newspaper that "the Call has continued to portray the district, some of its employees and some Board of Education members in an unbalanced fashion.''
Dr. Ricker's letter contains no specific examples of our so-called "un-balanced'' reporting. But his letter gets even better: "Regardless of the situation, or all of the facts, it is apparent that the Call does not want to cover the district with a balanced journalist viewpoint.''
While Dr. Ricker may be an educated man, his comments demonstrate a profound lack of knowledge about the high journalistic standards this newspaper strives for each week.
Dr. Ricker is entitled to his opinion and we're more than happy to publish his thoughts about the Call.
In his letter, he talks about "exclusive'' interviews he's conducted with the Call. That makes it sound like he was granting us exclusive information or providing us exclusive stories.
That's not the case. We had little hope for the interviews when very early on he told us that while he would respond to specific questions, he would not volunteer any information.
What Dr. Ricker probably doesn't know is that regular interviews with the superintendent began when Bob Rogers held the job and initially other newspapers were invited.
When John Cary became superintendent, the interviews with the Call and other newspapers continued.
Eventually, the other newspapers lost interest and stopped participating in the weekly sessions. The Call, however, felt an obligation to obtain as much information about the school district as it could and continued to participate in the interviews until Dr. Ricker halted them.
In his letter, Dr. Ricker stated, "As we have done in the past, we will continue to comply with the requirements of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law.'' That sounds good, but Ricker's compliance with the Sunshine Law is questionable at best.
When Dr. Ricker was interviewed for the superintendent's post back in December 2002 by a Public Review Committee comprised of residents, he said he believed in the First Amendment. Given his efforts — most of them successful — to silence his critics, we find that difficult to believe.
We have no plans to change the manner in which we cover the Mehlville School District. We will continue to attend school board meetings and call district employees and board members for comment. If they do not respond, that's what will be published. If information is not provided, that's what will be published.
In the past, district officials have appreciated our coverage of Mehlville. The Mehlville School District in 2001 nominated the Call for a Missouri Community Service Commission Media Appreciation Award, which the newspaper received.
Just last year, this writer was presented an Award of Merit by former Superintendent Cary at the Mehlville School District's 23rd annual Recognition Night.
In what we hope will be just a few short years, Dr. Ricker will retire and the Call will be more than willing to work with the new superintendent. In the meantime, we will continue ask the tough questions that Tim Ricker can't or doesn't want to answer.