The Boonville City Council voted seven to zero on Monday to reject a controversial offer to buy Kemper Military School.
After rejecting a proposal to go into closed session to discuss the proposal, the council, minus one member, voted unanimously to reject the offer without discussing the issue.
“I was surprised at the lack of discussion,” said Sarah Gallagher, Boonville’s director of economic development. Gallagher said the rejection of the Hintons’ proposal was not the end of options for the Kemper property.
Kemper closed in 2002, and the city bought the property in 2003. The Hintons and a Utah-based holding company, Golden Pond Investments, Ltd., approached the city several months ago in regards to the property. Golden Pond would have leased the land from the city, and the Hintons would have subleased the grounds and run the school.
The proposal called for a military school for male cadets in grade levels seven through 12. Randall Hinton would have served as the school’s director, and Russell Hinton would have served as the business manager.
Robert Lichfield, who owns the holding company, is also the founder of the World Wide Association of Specialty Schools and Programs, an organization that runs programs for troubled teens throughout the U.S. and other countries. Seven of the organization’s schools have been closed amid abuse allegations.
Randall Hinton has worked at several of World Wide Association’s schools, including Tranquility Bay in Jamaica, where he admitted using pepper spray on at least one student on multiple occasions, according to a background check issued by the Boonville Police Department.
Last Monday, a group of about 75 Boonville residents attended a hearing about the Kemper proposal. Many expressed doubts about the Hintons’ and Golden Pond’s connections to the World Wide Association, past allegations of abuse and the Hintons’ qualifications to run the school.
Randall Hinton was disappointed in the council’s decision.
“It’s their city, and we can’t tell them what to do,” Randall Hinton said. “It’s sad to see people not wanting to help kids.”
In addition to safety concerns, Boonville Mayor Danielle Blanck said some people were concerned about how the property would be controlled. Several community members who spoke at the beginning of the meeting on Monday expressed concern over the fact that the city would lose control over the property.
“If you sell it, it’s gone forever,” said Patrick Hanna, a community member who addressed the council before the vote.
Mark Farrell, secretary of the Kemper Military School alumni association and a proponent of the Hintons’ proposal, was disheartened at the decision.
“If they let this slip by, they may have lost the last wise financial offer,” Farrell said.
Despite the rejection, Farrell said the Hintons will still address a group of Kemper alumni on Saturday during a reunion at the school.