Public criticism leads to feud between Lee’s Summit school board member, superintendent

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LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Students and teachers are off this week for Spring Break, but the Lee's Summit superintendent and one board member are working, calling for one another's resignation.

In a public letter sent to the Kansas City Star earlier this week, board member Bill Baird accused Superintendent David McGehee of breaking policies and rules by not having the board vote to approve which law firm the district uses.

McGehee said the district uses eight or nine firms, each with fee schedules listed out long ago, long before he started dating Shellie Guin, an attorney who works for one of the firms the district uses. The superintendent said before the pair made it public, he approached each board member, got approval, and put protocols into place that have since been approved by a third-party attorney.

Baird claimed he never agreed with the relationship and has been fighting what he calls a "legal counsel issue" for eight months.

McGehee said, "It's okay to have disagreements and conversations and discussions about issues we do that all the time. Some of them in open session and some enclosed depending on whether it's appropriate one place or another. It's definitely not my desire to air these issues out in the media and the newspapers. I'd much rather talk them through under our normal agreed upon protocols."

However, because Baird sent a letter to the Kansas City Star, McGehee said he felt no option but to respond in the same way. "I didn't have any other way to make sure that the record was set straight; that the board nor I were violating these policies the way he was claiming."

Both men agreed they've spent time in one another's offices trying to resolve issues.

McGehee said, "I sat here about 5 weeks ago with Mr. Baird for 3 1/2 hours trying to talk through issues with him. I've even offered to try to bring in some outside help to help his relationship with the rest of the board so we can all work in a collaborative manner."

Baird said, "Most of the time we can work things out but this one issue when he's not following policy, not following laws, we have not been able to work out."

McGehee also said he tried to call Baird as soon as the letter was published. He said Baird didn't answer or return the call.

Baird admitted not returning the superintendent's call: "That's his style. He wants to debate you one-on-one and his tactics when he does that are not becoming of him. He wants to talk one-to-one with all the board members and then try to win the debate with each of them rather than talking about issues and policies and decisions in the open session."

McGehee said Baird had an expectation of what board service was like, it hasn't met Baird's expectations, and he's trying to work through some of the challenges of that. The superintendent said, "No one's violated any statutes or policies. I think we've just got individuals interpreting policies and statutes and are not necessarily interpreting them correctly." He continued, "Sometimes the emotions override the intellect at times. Not saying that in a critical or disrespectful way, just emotions rule the day sometimes."

Baird claimed the superintendent and board leaders had meetings behind closed doors that should've been public. "We approve the bills to be paid every month. The board is the governing body." Baird said deciding which law firms the district employs and how they're paid should be approved by the board. "I consider them contracts that need our approval for the statutes for board policy. Not one has been approved."

McGehee said they aren't contracts, rather fee agreements, and they do not require board approval, but he said he also offered that possibility to Baird and the board. "I think Mr. Baird believes in someway that they should be contracts that should be approved by the board. I conceded to Mr. Baird that I would be happy to go back out to each one of these legal firms and have them bring you these fee agreements for next year. If that's going to appease him and make him more comfortable with these agreements, then we should do that. If he wanted to run it through the board for board approval, if the whole board wants that to occur, I'm fine with that."

Part of Baird's concern is that McGehee is dating Shellie Guin, a partner in one of the law firms the district employed. McGehee said, "I may be dating one of the many attorneys that work for the 8 or 9 firms that work for the school district in any capacity. I'm not directing the legal work that person does. I don't direct anybody in this district to say, 'Call this person, that person.' They need to call whoever with whichever firm can deal with their issue."

He continued, "I sat down with the board before I ever entered into that relationship. Each one of them individually, we conversed about it. And then I think the board met together and they put in some protocols to make sure that I wasn't signing off on those legal bills, someone else was. There are rules that guide these things. Shellie Guin has more to lose than David McGehee if we violate those rolls or those protocols. So we needed those protocols in place. She insisted that those protocols be in place. Since then, the board has had those protocols reviewed by an expert to make sure that they're okay because we've had new concerns raised about them. And they are. It's all been out in the open and up front from the beginning."

Baird argued, "This is about board policy and following the laws and statutes that our board is supposed to follow. So is there a conflict? If there's any conflict, it's simply because he's not following procedures and the policies and laws with regard to who are legal services provider is."

Then Baird said, "I have no comment on his personal relationship with Shellie Guin." Fox 4's Megan Dillard asked, "You say your issue is not necessarily the relationship; it has to do with the fact that these things have not been board approved. If McGehee he were to come forward and say, 'Okay let's go back and get this board approved,' would that resolve the issue?" Baird responded, "That's all I've been asking for. That's all I've been asking for it. Do I think there's a conflict of interest question? Yes I do, and that's why I'll vote for other law firms."

Another part of this argument surrounds McGehee's contract negotiations. His salary and perks combined total $397,000, making him the highest paid superintendent in the state.

McGehee said, "I'm not sure if there's some buyer remorse here or what might be going on. I sat down with every board member over a year ago and talked to them about the fact that I was coming up on retirement eligibility, and what that means to me financially if I leave and go work in another district, in other states, or so on. All 7 members wanted to work with me to find someway to extend my tenure in the district. The numbers, the financial aspect of all of that, was negotiated last year."

He continued, "They wrote a three-year contract that gave me an incentive to stay longer rather than retire at the end of the school year and even wrote in a penalty for me that if I didn't work another year beyond that contract, I would owe them because they wanted to get as much as they could out of their incentive. The only thing I asked for is, if there was going to be a penalty for me, that there would be a penalty for them for not hiring me back for the 18-19 school year. Anything that's going on right now is just a conversation about putting that 4th year on."

Baird said he had issues with McGehee's contract last year. "I had a lot of issues with legal with regard to his contract. I didn't get a lot of my questions answered. I went to board leadership, I went to the new board leadership, our attorney, she says never received any of my concerns. Our attorney did not show up the day she said. Someone else in the firm came to explain the contract."

Baird further explained, "Yes I did vote for the contract, but I will say I raised many objections to the contract originally because of the structure and because of the way we were doing things. This year I wanted legal representation. They weren't going to give it to me. They [the board] wanted me to look it over and grant the extension without legal representation."

McGehee said he believed he and Baird were resolving Baird's concerns. "Then we get surprised by a letter to the newspaper, so I'm not exactly sure what aspect of this we haven't resolved." McGehee said Baird's call for his resignation "came out of nowhere." The superintendent then called for Baird's resignation. He closed by saying, "I'm really finished criticizing Mr. Baird in public. I would be happy to talk with him through any issues and concerns he still has."

Baird closed with a call to action. "He has a choice. Resign or I have my next step." That next step is a public request for a state audit. "The State Auditor's Office needs to conduct an investigation. The board needs to not take any action on Dr. McGee he's contract until that investigation has ended, and the district needs to suspend the use of Guin Mundorf services until the end of the audit."

Baird ended by commenting about McGehee's relationship with Guin. "I'm not attacking his personal life. I'm happy that he has found someone."

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