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Joplin pastor sues Greitens over removal from State Education Board

File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
A lawsuit has been filed against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens by Tim Sumners, a retired Joplin pastor, for removing him from the State Board of Education.

A retired pastor and current chaplain for the Joplin police and fire departments is suing Gov. Eric Greitens for removing him from Missouri's State Board of Education.

The Republican governor appointed Tim Sumners this month. Greitens withdrew the appointment the day before a closed-door meeting last week, the purpose of which was to consider a removing state Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven.

That vote failed on a tie vote.

Sumners’ attorney, James Layton, said removing state board members requires a hearing. Layton, Missouri’s former solicitor general, added that they can only be removed for wrongdoing.

“In this instance, the governor purported to simply fire or remove Mr. Sumners from the Board without going through the process the statute requires and without having the basis that the statute requires,” Layton said.

Credit Provided | Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Margie Vandeven survived a vote last week to oust her as education commissioner.

Sumners is also seeking a temporary restraining order to block Jennifer Edwards from sitting on the education board. Greitens named Edwards as Sumners’ replacement shortly before last week’s failed vote to remove Vandeven. Another vote could be scheduled Friday.

“We’re taking steps to place it before a judge, but we don’t know when or whether that will happen,” Layton said.

Greitens has not responded to requests from St. Louis Public Radio for comment.

The lawsuit and restraining order request have been assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green. Edwards and each member of the State Board of Education are named as defendants, along with Greitens.

Meanwhile, Laurie Sullivan, a teacher from Springfield also filed lawsuit Tuesday, alleging the State Education Board violated Missouri’s Sunshine Law when it swore in Edwards shortly before the attempt to oust Vandeven.

Sumners wasn’t Greitens’ first appointee to the board seat representing southwestern Missouri. Melissa Gelner's appointment was withdrawn, citing afterwards in a letter to the board that she had been pressured by the Greitens administration to fire Vandeven. She has also asked the board to clarify whether her own removal by the governor was valid, but has not yet filed suit.

“I am hopeful for prompt court action on these cases to determine the rightful holder of the seat and achieve clarity for all involved,” she said. “I remain committed to the independent function of the state board, the students of Missouri and the betterment of education outcomes in our state.”

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.