JEFFERSON CITY– A Joplin man who was appointed to the Missouri Board of Education and then blocked from voting on the fate of the state education commissioner is suing Gov. Eric Greitens in order to remain on the board while discussions continue.
Greitens appointed John T. Sumners to the board in October but after Sumners publicly suggested the governor's staff was pressuring him to vote to remove Margie Vandeven from her job, the governor rescinded the appointment and instead nominated Jennifer Edwards of Springfield.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cole County asks for a temporary restraining order to allow Sumners to participate in board meetings, while removing Edwards from the board.
Greitens rescinded Sumners' appointment without written notice or a hearing. State law says education board members can't be removed by the governor "except after written notice and hearing on charges of malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in office." Greitens' spokesman Parker Briden didn't return requests for comment Tuesday but has said that the governor's actions were "obviously legal."
During a live Facebook question-and-answer session Tuesday, Greitens said he had received a lot of specific questions about the State Board of Education. He answered them with a general assertion that Missouri's education system needs change while citing statistics about rising administrator pay, low teacher pay and declining student test scores from a couple of years ago.
"We're going to appoint people onto the State Board of Education who recognize that we've got to fight for our kids and that we've got to do better for kids in the state of Missouri," Greitens said.
The legal action is the latest twist in the governor's efforts to appoint board members who would vote to remove Vandeven, who is strongly supported by education groups and Democratic and Republican state lawmakers. It is still not clear why Greitens wants Vandeven removed, but Greitens appears to want to hire a new commissioner who shares his support for charter schools and other school-choice policies.
Sumners' appointment was rescinded and Edwards was nominated less than 24 hours before the board was set to vote on Vandeven's future Nov. 21. Sumners attended the meeting but was not allowed to vote. Vandeven survived after a 4-4 vote, with Edwards joining those who voted against her.
The board is scheduled to meet again Friday.
Besides Greitens, the lawsuit names Edwards and the seven other board members. The suit alleges that barring Sumners from participating and allowing Edwards to vote and participate in meetings is "contrary to the public interest because it permits her to exercise authority based on a void act by the governor."
Sumners did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Greitens didn't tell him directly to vote against Vandeven but he believes the assumption that he would vote to remove her was the main reason he was appointed.
"They don't want to be accused of telling me how to vote, so they go through these indirect channels," Sumners said. "If you're not going to play by their rules, they kick you off the team."
The Missouri School Boards' Association said in a statement that it supported the lawsuit "because it is critical that we preserve the integrity of the state Board of Education as stipulated in our constitution and state statutes."
Five of the eight board members were appointed by Greitens during the recess of the Missouri General Assembly, meaning none have been confirmed by the Senate.