Monday, March 18, 2013

Fox C-6 Is Hoping To Silence Critics Using Cease and Desist Letters

Should the Fox C-6 School Superintendent use taxpayer money to threaten parents and patrons with "Cease and Desist" letters because she does not like the criticism that she and the district have been receiving?

Is the school board even aware of the fact that our Superintendent has been sending out "Cease and Desist" letters to parents and patrons in the Fox C-6 School District?

So far, I am aware of four "Cease and Desist" letters that have been sent to individuals within our school district. None of the letters that I have seen were copied to school board members other than mine. I received my letter on August 24, 2012. It was copied to Ruth Ann Newman since she was mentioned in my letter. It was also copied to Dianne Critchlow and Dan Baker. My letter stated that I had called Ruth Ann Newman "a liar" and that I had used other defamatory and derogatory comments which of course I never did. But, that is the typical misrepresentation of fact and tactic typically used in a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) type of lawsuit or threat of a lawsuit in order to silence and intimidate critics of a governmental body.

So, what actually happened? I attempted to speak to Ruth Ann Newman about issues in our school district after a scout meeting. We are both leaders in the same scout troop. She didn't want to talk about the issues and told me that she "wasn't going to dwell on the negative". She told me that all I ever did was complain; and, that I was the only one that complained about our district.

During that same discussion she scolded me saying, "When was the last time that you came to a school board meeting and thanked the board for the great job we are doing? When? When?". I guess I should have expected that since I am typically the only person until recently who speaks during Public Comments at school board meetings. In fact, in checking all of the board meeting minutes back to 2001, I found that I now hold the school record for the most Public Comments since then. I now always try to say thank you to our board before saying anything that the board may not wish to hear because it may not be as glowing or as positive as they would like.

So, where does the "liar" part come in? Well, Ruth Ann Newman later denied ever saying that I was "the only person that ever complains about the district". I tried to remind her that she did in fact say that. I have known Ruth Ann Newman since I was a student in school. My dad was her teacher back in the day. So, I thought that she would be willing to listen to my concerns. But, I believe that she has been tainted from being on the school board for so long and because she was told in an email from our superintendent that was sent to all board members that the board could not speak with me. So, that could have something to do with it as well.

So, who does the school board serve? Is it the community or our superintendent?

Back to those other "Cease and Desist" letters. The other three letters that I am aware of weren't copied to the board or board members. So it seems likely that our board members may not have been informed that these cease and desist letters were even sent because according to School Board Policy 0360:
"A decision to seek legal counsel or advice on behalf of the School District shall normally be made by the superintendent or by persons specifically authorized by the superintendent. It may also take place as a consequence of formal Board direction.
Many types of legal assistance to the district may be considered routine, and may not require specific Board approval or prior notice. However, when the administration concludes that unusual types or amounts of professional legal service may be required, the Board directs the administration to so advise it, and to expeditiously seek either initial or continuing authorization for such service."
Therefore, our school superintendent IS allowed to use legal counsel for "routine" issues and only needs to inform the board if, "unusual types or amounts of professional legal service may be required". I know from past experience that our school board has simply been informed that district attorneys are taking care of things and board members weren't given any details using the premise of privacy concerns. Our board members accept that information from our superintendent. However, many people have expressed their concerns to me about the fact that our board members never seem to question our superintendent. That is why I believe our school board has lost credibility with the community and why the community is demanding change. When I made Sunshine Requests for billing invoices from our district's law firm in the past, I was told that they do not contain detailed billing information and that many things on those bills would have to be redacted. That certainly makes it difficult to determine how our taxpayer dollars are being spent on legal fees.

Why would our school district send out "cease and desist" letters to individuals expressing their concerns at school board meetings or voicing their concerns to other individuals?

I've told numerous people about the letter I received last fall. I received mine after I sent out our superintendent's salary schedule to friends via email. I also expressed my concerns about the $18.5 million dollar bond issue and that I was not in support of it since the district had not been forthcoming as to how the money was going to be spent in a line item budget which I had to request via Missouri Sunshine Law. So, someone forwarded my email to someone who eventually routed it to our superintendent. Our superintendent must not have liked the fact that I was distributing her salary schedule to my friends and comparing it to the amount that the Vice President of the United States makes. Yes it is true. Our school superintendent makes more than the Vice President of the United States. That is a Fact by the way! Both salaries are public information.

So, why would our district use taxpayer money to pay school district attorneys that typically charge anywhere from $350 to $450 per hour to send out threatening cease and desist letters?

It is called a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). This is done in the hopes of silencing anyone who exercises their constitutional right to speak and petition government. However, there is a law in the state of Missouri protecting citizens from this type of action. This law is known as Missouri's Anti-SLAPP Law. It was enacted in 2004. This law was written to protect individuals who are the victims of such actions made by entities such as our school district. Our school district has a lot more money available to spend on attorneys. Most SLAPP lawsuits or the threat of a law suit usually alleges defamation or business torts such as "tortuous interference with a contract" as was stated in my letter. Luckily I found humor in reading the responses I received from my friends in the legal community that I shared my letter with. That's how I learned about Missouri's Anti-SLAPP Law.

There is a great article written by Stephen L. Kling that can be found in the May-June 2005 issue of the Journal of the Missouri Bar that explains in great detail with case references as to why SLAPP lawsuits are made or are threatened to be made against individuals. Below is a link to information about Missouri's Anti-SLAPP law:

SLAPP lawsuits are primarily not intended to resolve allegations made by the plaintiff such as as the school district or our superintendent. SLAPP lawsuits are intended to punish or retaliate against citizens who have spoken out against the plaintiff and to intimidate those who would otherwise speak in the future. It is intended to make an example of the victim and to spread fear throughout the community.

How does Missouri's Anti-SLAPP law protect the intended victim? The Anti-SLAPP law mandates the payment of attorney's fees and costs incurred by a SLAPP victim and provides for expedited consideration for a special motion to dismiss. The U.S. Supreme Court has also recognized that  "[c]irculars, speeches, newspaper articles, editorials, magazine articles, memoranda and all other documents" espousing a petitioner's viewpoint deserve First Amendment petition clause immunity when they are part of an overall effort "to influence government action".

Does sending out "Cease and Desist" letters to citizens expressing their concerns and opinions publicly about our school district set a good example for a National District of Character?

Is this what our school board members consider spending our taxpayer money wisely in their campaign ads?

Please email your board members and tell them what you think. Every board member now has their own personal email address. Their email addresses can be found on the Fox C-6 Board of Education - Meet the Board of Education page.

Everyone I have spoken to in the community concerning this tactic taken by the school district has not been pleased. This is why it is very important that you vote in the April 2013 school board election and let our incumbent school board members know that we as a community are not happy about what has been going on in our school district.

The Fox C-6 School District needs new administrative leadership and a new school board.