- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 19, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A third person appointed to the Missouri State Board of Education by Gov. Eric Greitens has withdrawn from the panel, hampering the first-year Republican governor’s efforts to find enough votes to replace the current education commissioner.

Springfield resident Heidi Crane declined the appointment to the board, prompting one current member to call Greitens incompetent and an amateur, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Crane would have replaced Springfield resident Melissa Gelner, who resigned last week after saying Greitens’ administration was pressuring her to make “rash” decisions about leadership. A third appointee, Delbert Scott, withdrew because his job barred him from taking the appointment.

“When you elect amateurs to public office, what you get is an amateur performance,” board member Michael Jones, who was appointed to represent the St. Louis area by former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said referring to Greitens.

It was not clear why Crane rejected the appointment and she did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday. Greitens’ spokesman, Parker Briden, also didn’t return messages seeking comment.

Greitens has successfully replaced only three of the board’s eight members, meaning he doesn’t have the votes to approve his own education commissioner to replace Commissioner Margie Vandeven.

Board President Charles Shields said it’s clear that Greitens wants to appoint his own commissioner, which is legal and not unusual for a new governor.

“That is their prerogative,” Shields said. “I don’t see any indication from the board members that have just been seated and the existing board members that we’re anywhere close to making that decision.”

Gelner told her former colleagues on the board that her appointment was withdrawn after she refused to immediately comply with Greitens’ plan to quickly remove Vandeven and replace her with a candidate recommended by Greitens without an open process, the Springfield News-Leader reported. Gelner said Greitens aide Nick Maddux would not explain why the governor wanted a September vote to remove Vandeven.

Both Shields and Jones said Greitens’ attempt to influence board appointees is unusual, with Shields saying the state constitution requires the board to be somewhat independent.

“I’ve been in politics for 35 years. I have never had an elected official ask me to go get someone fired,” Jones said. “On top of being wrong, it was just incompetent and not very well done.”

Melissa Randol, executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, said the board must maintain its independence and focus solely on serving children.

“It’s not unusual for a governor to share his or her perspective on public education, but it would be unusual for a governor to dictate a personnel matter,” she said.

Vandeven, who earns $191,544 annually, became commissioner in January 2015.

“She’s an extraordinary commissioner and, without hesitation, I can say she has done an excellent job of advancing the agenda of improving opportunities for children,” Randol said.

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