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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Missouri State Fair: Boonville School District Backs Superintendent, Announcer Mark Ficken

Posted By on Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 9:36 AM

  • Courtesy of Perry Beam

Update below: Mark Ficken, the announcer at the center of the Missouri State Fair rodeo scandal, did nothing wrong during the controversial Obama clown performance.

That is according to the Boonville School District, which is today releasing findings of its investigation into Ficken, who is the district's superintendent.

"The determination in the investigation was pretty all-encompassing," Ficken's attorney Albert Watkins tells Daily RFT. "He did not make any inappropriate statements."

See also: Tuffy Gessling The Clown May Get Talent Agent, "Overwhelmed" by Support After MO State Fair

The Saturday, August 10, performance at the taxpayer-funded event in Sedalia got national attention when an angry attendee spread the word about a clown in an Obama mask being chased by a bull. That audience member, Perry Beam, along with critics across the country, slammed the stunt as offensive and racist -- and one that seemed to provoke violence against a sitting president.

Here is some grainy footage Daily RFT uploaded then, along with some photos:

  • Courtesy of Perry Beam
  • Courtesy of Perry Beam

By Sunday night, people were naming Ficken as the announcer behind the stunt, who allegedly made statements like, "I'm excited! Yahoooo! We're gonna smoke Obama, man! You ready? Obama, they're coming for you this time!.... As soon as this bull comes out, Obama don't you move! He's gonna get you, get you, get you, getcha!"

Given that Ficken, then the president of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, is also a local school superintendent, some officials called for a full investigation. Ficken quickly lawyered up, arguing that the media reports were flat-out wrong and that, though he was the announcer at the time, the Obama clown act was a complete surprise to him and he did not actually make the statements attributed to him. (The clown is a performer named Tuffy Gessling, who now has a huge online following.)

Ficken resigned as the cowboy association president anyway, and the Boonville School District pushed forward with an investigation.

The results of that inquiry were released last night and confirm what he and his attorneys have been saying from the beginning, Watkins says.

"He didn't know about the rodeo clown until he appeared," he says. "He was surprised by the rodeo clown's appearance and did nothing to further the inappropriateness of his actions and statements."

Watkins has argued that Ficken said nothing more than the single statement, "Watch out for that bull Obama!"

In a statement to media this morning, Watkins says the findings "cleared Dr. Ficken of any wrong-doing, inappropriate actions or statements. The findings and the report gave rise to the Board's unanimous support of Dr. Ficken."

The report apparently was prepared by Jim Ritter, a retired Columbia public schools superintendent and Rick Williams, a retired navy judge advocate and former Missouri attorney general.

"He's just extremely proud to be part of a school district that truly embraced the concept of a man's reputation being worth more than a knee-jerk reaction," Watkins says.

Charlie Melkersman, president of the Boonville school board, did not offer Daily RFT a comment or copy of the report this morning and tells us only that a press release will be sent out today.

In the meantime, here is Watkin's full news release.


The Boonville, Missouri School District last night released its investigative findings into the role of its superintendent, Dr. Mark Ficken, in the August 10, 2013 Obama rodeo incident at the Missouri State Fair. The finding cleared Dr. Ficken of any wrong-doing, inappropriate actions or statements. The findings and the report gave rise to the Board's unanimous support of Dr. Ficken.

The investigative report was prepared by Jim Ritter, a retired Columbia, Missouri Public Schools Superintendent and Rick Williams, a retired navy Judge Advocate and former Missouri Attorney General.

"My client is proud to be associated with a school district where the reputation of a man is held in high enough esteem to warrant a complete investigation before taking draconian action based on erroneous media reports," said Albert S. Watkins, legal counsel for the Boonville School District Superintendent, Dr. Mark Ficken, to whom initial world-wide news reports incorrectly attributed the inappropriate comments and actions of a third-party rodeo clown.

"It appears those who tried to characterize the Heartland of America as a cistern for systemic racism overlooked one thing...the truth," concluded Watkins.

Update, 10:52 a.m.: The Boonville School District just released a statement confirming the findings of the report and expressing its confidence in Ficken.

Here is the full press release:

On August 27, 2013, the Board of Education of the Boonville R-I School District met in executive session to review the investigative report prepared by Dr. Jim Ritter, retired Superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, and Mr. Rick Williams, retired United States Navy Judge Advocate and former Missouri Assistant Attorney General. On behalf of the Board of Education, Dr. Ritter and Mr. Williams were hired to perform a thorough investigation of Superintendent Dr. Mark Ficken's role in the Missouri State Fair Rodeo Incident. In the course of their investigation, Dr. Ritter and Mr. Williams interviewed multiple individuals and analyzed video footage of the Missouri State Fair. The investigation was performed over multiple days and was summarized in a detailed report.

The report found that after careful review of the facts and opinions available to the investigators, "Dr. Ficken has been wrongly characterized by some who don't have correct information. " In particular, the report found that Dr. Ficken "had no advance knowledge of Mr. Gessling's [the clown's] plan to have someone impersonate President Obama," the skit was "not planned or rehearsed," and notably, Dr. Ficken had "no role in the skit other than an incidental reaction to Mr. Gessling's comments." Further, the report concluded that Dr. Ficken "has done nothing that would interfere with his role as an effective superintendent of schools in Boonville."

The Board voted 5-0 to accept the findings and conclusions of the investigators. Per the requirements of the Missouri Sunshine Law, Dr. Ficken was notified of the Board's vote prior to releasing the vote to the public this morning.

The Boonville R-I School District Board of Education is confident in Dr. Ficken's leadership. Under Dr. Ficken's leadership the district will continue to provide the best educational opportunities for its students and looks forward to another successful school year.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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