Tracey Perry is back on the Jefferson R-7 School District’s Board of Education, and Jim Terry may get to stay on the Jefferson County Council.
Special Judge Gael Wood on Sept. 30 dismissed the Missouri Attorney General Office’s conflict of interest case against Perry (District 5, Festus) alleging that when she was elected to the County Council, she forfeited her seat on the school board.
While the Attorney General’s Office says it considers each case individually, the ruling may have ramifications on whether Terry (District 7, Cedar Hill) can continue serving on the County Council.
“I have asked an attorney to help me with the next steps, but assume I will win also,” Terry said. “We shall see.”
The Attorney General’s Office filed a quo warranto petition on July 10 in Jefferson County Circuit Court, and the next day it sent a letter to Terry informing him that he, too, was under investigation for a potential conflict.
The petition essentially asked the judge to decide whether Perry should be forced to give up her school board seat because it conflicts with her role as a
The Attorney General’s Office has said it believes that when a person accepts an elected office that is in conflict with another office, he or she is disqualified from serving in the first office.
Hillsboro-area resident Rick Harvey filed the complaint against Terry, who also serves on the Big River Ambulance District Board of Directors.
Terry was elected to the County Council in November 2014 and re-elected in November 2018. He won a fifth consecutive three-year term to the Big River Ambulance District’s Board of Directors in April. If found in conflict, Terry would be obliged to vacate his County Council seat.
Terry received his letter from the Attorney General’s Office dated July 11 asking for confirmation of his offices and asking for a response within 30 days.
Terry said he sent in a response on July 19 and has not heard back from the office.
Perry ready to return to Jefferson R-7 school board
Wood, who on July 24 issued a preliminary order forcing Perry off the school board while the case was being deliberated, dismissed her case “with prejudice,” meaning it cannot be refiled.
Perry filed a motion for a summary judgment, or a judge’s ruling on the facts without a trial, and Wood granted it and ruled in her favor.
Perry said she will return for the school board’s next regular meeting on Oct. 22.
“Do I feel vindicated? Absolutely,” she said. “But mostly, I feel grateful for the opportunity to continue to work with everyone in the school district. I believe God has a plan for me. But this whole thing has been kind of surreal.”
Perry said she plans to file for reelection to the school board in April 2020.
“I absolutely will run,” she said. “There are a number of issues out there that need to be worked on. A primary issue with me is to improve mental health in our schools. We’ve begun to do things along those lines, but much more needs to be done. Then there’s the opiate crisis. We need to start educating children about that, teach them early about the dangers. What a difference that would make.”
Tracey’s first school board business after she was reinstated was attending a public meeting concerning the district’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP) held Oct. 2.
“How was I received at that meeting?” she said. “I was not received. My dealings with my fellow board members were good, but I was not well received by the group of people who started all this. But I had a number of phone calls from staff and faculty who supported me and from other community members.”
Opposition group ‘disappointed’ by dismissal
The Attorney General’s Office’s suit came on the heels of a formal complaint filed in May by a group that calls itself the Concerned Citizens of R-7.
Former school board member Lynne Jackson, a member of that group, said she doesn’t feel that Wood’s ruling clarifies the larger issue of whether a school board member has a conflict by serving on the County Council.
“Of course, I was disappointed with the ruling, but primarily because I feel that this issue is bigger than Tracey Perry and the Jefferson County Council and the Jefferson R-7 school board,” Jackson said. “While Tracey Perry may make the right decisions when it comes to a potential conflict, we can’t count on the next person or the person after that to make the right decisions. Unfortunately, this (ruling) doesn’t clear anything up.”
In its petition against Perry, the Attor¬ney General’s Office cited several areas where her two positions may conflict, including the County Council’s authority over planning and zoning cases that may affect the school district; the council’s budgetary oversight of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which assigns school resource officers to the school district; the possibility that the County Council may have to appoint members of the school board when three or more vacancies occur; and the school district’s employment of social workers through Comtrea, for which the County Council provides funding.
Jackson said she doesn’t believe the ruling will provide guidance in the future.
“Jefferson County has the potential for a lot of growth over the next few years, and that poses some problems. Years ago, when what was the River Ce¬ment Co. (now Buzzi Unicem) wanted to expand (its plant in the R-7 area), they went to the County Commission and asked for tax-increment financing. The three county commissioners approved it, and they were looking at what was the right thing for the entire county – we wouldn’t lose a big business, and the jobs would stay here. But our school district lost $8 million in taxes over the years. How would a county council member who is also a school board member vote on that? That’s a potential conflict.
“Unfortunately, all the case law that exists on this issue is old, so we’re relying on opinions from the Attorney General’s Office. I believe it was very important for us to get something decided about this, so I’m disappointed that it went the way it did.”
Perry looked at the ruling differently.
“This sets the stage for our future, and it opens up doors for others who want to serve for altruistic reasons that they don’t have to fear recrimination from people who set themselves up as their political enemies,” she said. “I know they say that each case is taken individually, but I hope that this means this doesn’t have to happen to other people.”
School officials look ahead
Superintendent Clint Johnston said he wanted to focus on the district’s busi¬ness.
“I’m not taking sides in this, between the school board and the R-7 Concerned Citizens group,” he said. “I’m choosing the side of our children, because that’s my job. Our students and our staff need the resources so that we can prepare our students to compete in a tough world. Our focus should be on those things.”
The school board in April placed Johnston on administrative leave, and after 55 days, reinstated him. The after¬math of the initial move touched off the dispute that led to the suit against Perry.
Wayne Surratt, president of the school board, said he was glad the suit was dismissed.
“I’m pleased that Mrs. Perry’s situ¬ation was been resolved and happy to have her back on the school board,” he said. “This shows the public an example of how a neutral third party is able to look at the facts presented and come to a dispassionate decision.”
Without Perry, the board has been deadlocked as it determines whether to pay legal bills with a Clayton law firm that it dealt with during Johnston’s ab¬sence.
The board has voted 3-3 consistently over the question of whether to pay the Tueth Keeney firm $31,842 for its ser¬vices, so the bills haven’t been paid.
Surratt said he’s taking a wait-and-see stance on whether the deadlock will be broken with Tracey essentially replac¬ing Shane Wolk, who voted not to pay the bills.
Wolk resigned his board seat Sept. 30 due to health reasons.
“We’re back to a six-member school board (until the board replaces Wolk), and I’m not sure that recently a six-member school board has served the public well,” Surratt said. “As far as the legal bills are concerned, I have said in open session that as long as I’m setting the agendas, they will be on an R-7 school board agenda as long as they remain unpaid. Not paying them – no matter what your opinion is on them – is irresponsible and puts the school district at risk financially. I would hope that they now will be paid, but you don’t know until the votes have been cast.”