State Board of Education sued for violating Sunshine Law during vote to oust Commissioner


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The hits seem to keep coming following the recent activities from the Missouri State Board of Education and the alleged attempt from Gov. Eric Greitens to oust Commissioner Margie Vandeven.

News broke Tuesday morning that one of the former appointees, Rev. Tim Sumners, had filed suit in the Cole County Circuit Court against Gov. Eric Greitens, Jennifer Edwards, and the rest of the board in an attempt to get back his seat on the board. Edwards is the appointee chosen to replace Sumners by Gov. Greitens just hours before the board vote, and Sumners contends that she cannot fill the seat as he was not removed without the proper procedures being followed. State statute says that no member may be removed by the governor except after written notice and hearing on charges of malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in office. Sumners had been notified through a voicemail.

But another suit has been filed, this one against the Board for an alleged violation of the state’s Sunshine Law.

Laurie Sullivan, a teacher from the Springfield area, filed the suit, alleging that the board had seated Edwards, and in doing so, violated the Sunshine Law.

Prior to the meeting of the board on Nov. 21, a letter, written by attorney Duane Martin, was sent to the board stating that “any attempts taken today to seat additional or alternative members” or any discussion “regarding the seating or appointment of a new or additional State Board member, will constitute a purposeful violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law.” Martin is listed as the attorney for Sullivan in the case.

During the closed session meeting, the lawsuit alleges that the State Board discussed and determined that it would seat and permit Edwards to vote as the member representing the 7th Congressional District.

The members of the board had inquired also whether Edwards had been sworn in, to which she acknowledged that she had been appointed and sworn in that morning prior to the meeting.

The lawsuit notes that, according to state statute, “any meeting or vote closed pursuant to section 610.021 shall be closed only to the extent necessary for the specific reason announced to justify the closed meeting or vote. Public governmental bodies shall not discuss any business in a closed meeting, record or vote which does not directly relate to the specific reason announced to justify the closed meeting or vote.”

According to the lawsuit, the public notice did not include any reference to any agenda item relating to the discussion of which person should be seated and vote as the 7th District member, and as such, could not discuss those matters.

The suit asks the court to provide declaratory relief, saying that all business conducted on Nov. 21 is void due to violations of the Sunshine Law.

Read the full filing document below:

Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.