School district releases requested documents

Friday, August 10, 2007 | 8:08 p.m. CDT; updated 9:46 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Documents released by Columbia Public Schools on Friday contained no information about the 10 to 12 landowners Superintendent Phyllis Chase says the district talked to while looking for a site to build a new high school.

Also absent is correspondence before June 12 between any district official or community member and Chris Mallory. The former assistant superintendent has been the district’s land consultant since Sept. 1, 2006, according to the documents.

Information about the landowners and Mallory’s correspondence was at the heart of a July 16 Sunshine Law request from the Columbia Missourian. Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barnett sent a memo July 18, within the three-day limit allowed under the law, saying the records are closed under an exemption.

However, two experts on Sunshine Law cases said earlier this week that the exemption didn’t apply.

Early Friday afternoon, Barnett faxed a memo to area media. “I have recently received a Sunshine Law request for correspondence between the Columbia Public Schools and Mr. Chris Mallory, the contract for services between Columbia Public Schools and Mr. Mallory, and documentation of negotiations between the school district and others in the community regarding the purchase of land,” Barnett said.

Whether the Sunshine Law request Barnett referred to was the same one the Missourian sent almost four weeks ago, or whether there has been a more recent request, remained unclear Friday. Neither Barnett nor Chase returned a call to each of their offices Friday afternoon.

At issue are the circumstances surrounding the district’s Dec. 14 purchase of 40 acres owned by Turner Vemer at the southeast corner of New Haven and Rangeline roads. At the same time, Vemer donated another 40 acres; in June, the Columbia Board of Education approved using the land for a third main high school. City and county officials, as well as some members of the public, have since criticized the decision given the lack of streets, sewer and other infrastructure at the site three miles from the nearest city limits.

Here is what the district released Friday:

— Information about Mallory’s employment, including invoices and two related e-mails to Chase. The district said Mallory is a vendor to the district and there is no written contract. He is being paid $75 an hour and 1 percent of appraised value of land purchased and/or 1.5 percent of appraised value of land “substantially given.” He has been paid $28,350 for work from Sept. 1, 2006, to July 24, 2007.

— Information on a 2005 negotiation with Columbia businessman George Godas, who at the time offered the district 28 acres on Route Z just north of Interstate 70 and $100,000 for naming rights on a new elementary school. Godas said last week he would give a portion of his 212 acres for a high school as well as sell part of it to the district.

— Four e-mails from Mallory to Chase. Two are about finding and buying land for a new elementary school. One contained a June 13 e-mail from David Walker, an attorney for the district.

“The developers want to keep the news of a school at that location quiet until it has been annexed,” Walker wrote in the e-mail. “Their fear is that if the city learns of our plans they will ask the developers to do unreasonable things regardless of the expense. I am not sure we can accommodate their request and be in compliance with the open meetings law.”

It is unknown whether this location is the same site where the district is conducting a 45-day environmental study to determine the site’s feasibility for construction of a school. The property is near Waco and Brown Station roads in northeast Columbia.

A third e-mail was written in advance of a work session Aug. 6 between Columbia Public Schools and the City Council, in which Mallory wondered what role he needed to play.

A fourth e-mail is about a comment John McCormick is reported to have made in a newspaper article. McCormick, who owns land adjacent to the Vemer property and opposes putting a high school there, was quoted as saying the district had originally planned to build a high school in the northern part of the city and would have done so if the Vemer property had not been available.

Mallory said he talked with McCormick about the various reasons administrators ended “‘looks to the north’ and haven’t considered it a reasonable location for at least 10 years.”

McCormick spoke with the Missourian on Friday. He recalled that in the conversation, Mallory said the district was not looking in the north because administrators wanted the student demographics of the school to match those of the city. McCormick said Mallory told him a school directly north wouldn’t allow a good demographic mix.

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