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Since Call Newspapers founding in 1989, elected Mehlville School Board members and aspiring Mehlville School Board members have worked with them in a kind of information collusion and conspiracy. I know this firsthand because for five and a half years, I was a part of it.
I can imagine that they would say, “Don’t forget where you came from,” and they would be right. (And I'll likely pay a hefty price when they feel the time is right, since retribution is a common practice of theirs.) It was my connections to Call Newspapers that afforded me the name recognition and prominence that I needed to win election. I lost in 2004, but won the next two, 2005, and 2008. By staying in contact with “The Call” on a regular basis I was able to bully my ideas and thoughts into the minds of almost every mailbox in South County.
And it wasn’t just me. Call Newspapers is the alpha-power behind the Mehlville School District and nothing substantial happens without their permission. (They had a direct hand in the influence required in hiring two of the worst superintendents in the district’s history, including the one they hate the most.) Therefore, even though many otherwise upstanding citizens preferred not too, they did and still continue to treat Call Newspapers as a necessary evil in getting any minimal accomplishment achieved.
Sometimes I would refer to them in closed session and other meetings as, “The 8th and most powerful board member.” I can’t tell you how many times we heard or said, “Maybe we should run it by Call Newspapers first.”
If they didn’t like something, I was the one they called or emailed. If I wanted to prop up an idea, I was the one who called or emailed them. If I had board members that I wanted them to support, all I did was walk them into the office and introduce them. Bam!...endorsed.
Kind of sad and unethical how politics and newspapers sometimes run a community isn’t it?
The only group of Board Members to ever decide to stand up and fight Call Newspapers lost their battle with great costs to their reputations, as well as that of the District's. That group of board members was Rita Diekemper, Cindy Christopher, Mike Heins, Bill Schornheiser, Tom Correnti, and Marea Kluth-Hoppe.
To these people, when I resigned in 2010, I apologized. Why? Because I found out first hand what it was like to start to assert your independence in trying to do what you believed was the right thing for the Mehlville School District. I was let down, humiliated, and incredibly sad. I thought the ends justified the means, but instead, I learned that I was just a pawn in their game of power...power over the lives and futures of 10,000 children and those who have dedicated their lives to teaching them.
There is a real problem with coming out and taking on Call Newspapers like this. As I have said and been told a million times, “You don’t pick fights with people who buy their ink by the barrel.”
Well, Ink is an interesting word and has many definitions. My favorite is the following from Ambrose Bierce’s ‘The Devil’s Dictionary.’
“INK, n. A villainous compound...chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote intellectual crime. The properties of ink are peculiar and contradictory: it may be used to make reputations and unmake them; to blacken them and to make them white; but it is most generally and acceptably employed as a mortar to bind together the stones of an edifice of fame, and as a whitewash to conceal afterward the rascal quality of the material. There are men called journalists who have established ink baths which some persons pay money to get into, others to get out of. Not infrequently it occurs that a person who has paid to get in pays twice as much to get out.”
I never paid any money, (unless you count my ads) but there definitely was a cost of getting "in" and exponential costs in trying to get "out". My parting gift? One of the most competent Superintendents this district has seen since its inception.
My challenge now, for current and future board members, is not to fight Call Newspapers, but to treat all of the press in an ethical and equal manner. Answer their calls and answer their questions, but colluding and conspiring with them to control the policies and direction of the Mehlville School District is unethical and demeaning to them as people and a great disservice to the Mehlville Community -especially our classroom teachers and the children they serve.
My intention, from this point forward, is to develop a statement of press ethics for future and current board members and will ask them to pledge to keep their press communications ethical. I will post this pledge as soon as it is complete for all to see.
As I said above, at the time of my resignation, I apologized to the school board members whose reputations I helped destroy, but there is still a group of people to whom I have not apologized, and that is the Mehlville Community as a whole. While I am proud of a lot of what I accomplished for the district, our community, and our children, I am profoundly ashamed of what I felt I had to do to make it happen.