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Former Mehlville School Board Member Apologizes to Community for "Information Collusion" with Call Newspapers

Even with the best intentions, I practiced some of the most unethical of politics. Here is my apology and a challenge to current and future board members.

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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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mike Stevens October 11, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Karl--I would love to see more updates to this post regarding collusion with the Call. Please give us more information, and, since it would be factual and contain proof, it should stray away from libel. The Call uses choice words when they want to "report" on the news--things like "pay hike" or "tax hike" make readers think of a huge increase when in fact it may only be a few cents or dollars. I think this is important because it's clear that Aaron Hilmer has the same type of relationship you describe with the Call. As another poster wrote, articles about the Fire District seem to be fewer, especially since Tim White "resigned". Please, more information!!
Karl Frank Jr. October 16, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Mike, I hear you, but it doesn't serve any purpose to post anything like that at this point. I have no concerns about libel, and they know as well as I do that I don't have anything to worry about in this area. As you say, hyperbole is very powerful and is why Mehlville will never be able to accomplish anything truly significant for its community as long as Call Newspapers exists. They are allowed to be exceptionally mediocre; as high as you can get and still be mediocre. The admin and teachers know what to do to squeeze blood from a turnip to achieve that exceptional mediocrity, but they don't have the resources they need to be truly exceptional and never will - as long as Call Newspapers exists, which likely will be for the foreseeable future. More information won't help. The people who care see it. Even the people who don't care see it, but, they don't care, and seem to like it. Occasionally they will support buildings and other projects, but only if it serves another purpose, and building don't teach children...teachers teach children...their disdain and jealously of the teaching profession has cause a high level of brain drain from our classrooms, both from teachers getting paid up to $10,000 more a year at different schools, as well as parents moving their kids to school districts that have a chance at being something better than exceptionally mediocre. That said, a parent with enough time can make up the difference. It serves that kid, but not the community
Mike Stevens October 16, 2012 at 06:03 PM
I agree with you Karl, and hope that the Call newspapers do go away, especially with some bankrupty claims about them. You are right, Mehlville staff do what they can with what they have, but too many of the most talented can and do leave for other districts, where, as you state, they really can earn thousands more per year. My fear is this---with Mehville not being able to pay top dollar to teachers, that means that they cannot attract the most desirable candidates for teaching who instead go to higher paying districts. That means that Mehlville most likely has to hire those teachers who could not get jobs in districts like Kirkwood. I would hope that the community would want the best in the classroom, not the ones who other districts turned down. That makes me sound like I'm trashing the teachers, but I am really not. I just don't think that Mehlville can attract and, more importantly, retain the best out there.
PaulRevere March 09, 2013 at 10:21 PM
Mike: Buying into the conclusion that Teacher Pay is the problem is ludicrous. Mehlville has "funding system" problem. Their is no real competition within ALL of our public schools. Why? Because they all operate under the same umbrella. (union Contracts). Mehlville does not need a $225,000 per year superintendent. He has literally mortgaged Mehlville's future. "Free" Kindergarten and "free" auditoriums is an unfair representation to the community. When State & Federal grants dry up--it's curtains for Mehlville , unless massive Property tax increases our substantial new building comes to fruition. 20 year solar-Leases ignore solar panel replacements in 20 years. Ignores coming standard energy technology improvements. No, you and Karl should not be confused about Pay. Only , when union contracts are torn up and replaced with a system that pays the best teachers $20,000 more than they could get anywhere else. That is a structure that would zoom Mehlville to the best place for public education. Simply put--There are too many "chiefs" and not enough indians in our public schools.
Karl Frank Jr. April 17, 2013 at 01:59 PM
I promised to start releasing emails in relation to the information collusion between school board members at Mehlville and Call Newspapers when the time was right. Visit here for the first 5 emails of thousands... https://www.facebook.com/MCT4Mehlville

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