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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Legacy of Creg Williams

Posted By on Tue, Oct 24, 2006 at 2:37 PM
Veronica O'Brien: "I never asked for confidential information."

Former St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Creg Williams may have relinquished the district's reins involuntarily this past summer, but at least the Chicago native trotted away with a $222,500 check and a severance package. Six of Williams' close associates weren't so lucky. They showed up for work on Monday, July 17, the first business day after Williams resigned, and were greeted by armed guards.

According to a lawsuit (viewable here) filed by Richard Basden, David Kuhn, Beverly LaCoste, Nicolas Britto, Gary Hughey and Roosevelt Brown in St. Louis Circuit Court on September 22, the administrators were detained for three hours, then summarily fired without cause and escorted from the district building.

The group is suing the Board of Education, as well as Board President Veronica O'Brien, Vice President Bill Purdy, and members Peter Downs and Donna Jones, for a bevy of compensatory and punitive damages stemming from breaches of contract and false-light publicity.

The ex-staffers are also asking the court for "injunctive relief": They want a judge to bar the district from naming anyone else to their respective positions.

Basden, hired in April, headed up the district's human resources office, and Kuhn worked for him. LaCoste was Williams' chief of staff and Britto his special assistant/director of small business development. Hughey, the chief operating officer and building comissioner, was a holdover from the previous administration, which was led by interim superintendent Pamela Randall Hughes. Brown was the facilities and planning commissioner.

According to the complaint, the district denied some of the plaintiffs access to their health insurance and "acted willfully and wantonly, and with reckless indifference to the false light in which it was placing" the plaintiffs by detaining them.

The lawsuit says the dismissals were politically motivated. In addition, Basden alleges that O'Brien orchestrated his sacking because he would not acquiesce to her requests for information.

"Board President Veronica O'Brien, on several occasions, requested personal access to confidential individually identifiable employee record information, which are closed records and not subject to public disclosure," the lawsuit states. It adds: "Upon information and belief, Veronica O'Brien caused Plaintiff Basden to be terminated and in retaliation for his refusal to violate Missouri law by disclosing closed personnel records to her in retaliation for reporting the unlawful conduct to Diana Bourisaw during the audit of the district."

O'Brien responds: "One, I never asked for confidential information, and two, he needs to prove that a board member doesn't have a right to get files. Plus, the public needs to understand that from time to time the [board's] attorneys will go through the board office to go downstairs [to human resources] and retrieve files to carry over to the attorneys' office. How else are they supposed to get them? What are we there for?"

-Kristen Hinman


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