12 apply to fill spots on Cape County's SB40 Board

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Controversy surrounding the operations of the Cape Girardeau County Sheltered Workshop/Handicapped Facilities and VIP Industries must end with a round of five appointments to the county board, Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said Monday.

The Cape Girardeau County Commission received 12 applications for the board by Monday's deadline. After agreeing that the most recently named member, Ruth Ann Dickerson, is serving only until the end of her current term on June 30, the commissioners decided that Thursday they will name five people to the nine-member board. If current members seeking reappointment -- vice chairwoman Dory Johnson and longtime board member Arlysse Popp -- are passed over in favor of new appointees, that would mean a majority of members are new.

"I am absolutely 100 percent sick of this controversy and one way or another, through this appointment process, this is going to cease," Jones said.

Issues between the board, also known as the SB40 Board, and its sole contractor, VIP Industries, have become part of the longstanding feud between Jones and Associate Commissioner Jay Purcell. All three commissioners have intervened in the dispute, with Jones and Associate Commissioner Paul Koeper meeting privately with four board members earlier this year. Purcell has attended public meetings of the board and supported members who have questioned VIP's spending practices and seek to rewrite the decades-old contract.

The board is also trying to secure county control of land and buildings used by VIP Industries that were purchased with tax money.

The board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the VIP Industries offices at 5616 U.S. 61 in Fruitland to discuss the upcoming appointments and the other issues. The board's longtime chairman, Robert Landgraf, has been unable to attend meetings because of illness, and many of the issues facing the board have been raised by members seeking to assert leadership as a result of his absence.

Board member Larry Tidd, who attended the commission meeting, said after meeting privately with Jones that the land issues and contract must be settled before the controversy dies. During the commission meeting, he said the board feels it has been pressured by VIP chief executive Hilary Schmittzehe and Jones to drop its effort to make changes.

"First we got bullied and beat up and stonewalled" by Schmittzehe, Tidd said. "Then you came in and did the same thing. We got it not only from our supplier, but we are getting threatened by our presiding commissioner that the controversy must stop."

Purcell, who is a candidate for Jones' job, has accused Jones and Koeper of violating the Missouri Sunshine Law by meeting with board members without informing him or posting the meeting. He has also criticized Jones and Koeper for selecting Dickerson over Dale True, who had the SB40 Board's support.

On Monday, Purcell suggested that a sixth appointment, to replace Landgraf, would be in order. But Jones shot down that idea, noting that the commission does not have the power to replace sitting board members and that Landgraf, like Jones, was part of the initial effort to establish a sheltered workshop in the 1960s.

"That would be a gross injustice to Mr. Landgraf, who has devoted his life to this," Jones said.

Purcell said that Thursday he will support the appointees the board recommends. Jones and Koeper said they will consider those recommendations but will not be bound by them.

"This person will not vote for somebody who will continue the controversy," Jones said.

Purcell also accused Koeper of seeking to hold individual meetings with SB40 Board members rather than meet with them in a group to avoid holding an open discussion. In reply, Koeper said he was unable to attend the board's most recent meeting and wanted information but was not trying to circumvent open meetings rules.

Koeper said he's received letters threatening that he won't be re-elected if he doesn't take the board's side, among other criticisms.

"I'm a human being," Koeper said. "Kick me enough and you are going to find out how I am going to react."

rkellersemissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent addresses:

1 Barton Square, Jackson, MO

5616 U.S. 61, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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