COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday — the day before State Board of Education members were expected to discuss whether to oust Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven — withdrew an appointee who had said he would not go along with the Republican governor's efforts to remove the official.
Rescinding John "Tim" Sumners' appointment and replacing him could give Vandeven's opponents the pivotal fifth vote needed to fire her or pressure her to resign. Three of Greitens' new appointees called for the closed meeting Tuesday.
Greitens has not elaborated why he wants a new commissioner to lead the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, an agency that is quasi-independent from the governor. The governor can't directly hire or fire the education commissioner, but Greitens can appoint the board members who have that power.
Vandeven's departure would open the door for the board —filled with a majority of Greitens' appointees — to pick a replacement.
Sumners said he accepted Greitens' appointment to the board, even realizing there was an expectation that he would have to back the governor's plan to fire Vandeven. He said he initially agreed after the governor's staff argued the education department was plagued by incompetency, but once reviewing the matter himself, found "that was not the case."
Greitens also previously withdrew his appointment of Springfield resident Melissa Gelner, who had said the Greitens' administration was pressuring her to make "rash" decisions about leadership.
State education groups and both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have slammed Greitens' actions, and Sumners' withdrawal brought more criticism.
"This move clearly demonstrates the intent of the Governor to circumvent the constitutional authority of the State Board of Education to employ the commissioner of education and then replace her with his own choice," Missouri School Boards' Association Executive Director Melissa Randol said in a statement. "This is a very troubling decision by the Governor and represents raw politics at its worst."