Missouri Baptist Convention leaders either were misled or conspired with local government officials to violate a state open-meetings law, says a local critic of a deal negotiated behind closed doors to sell the convention’s headquarters building to the county.
Lawyer Clyde Angle on Monday released a statement saying two members of the Cole County Commission acknowledged they knew when they voted to purchase the Baptist Building on Aug. 23 that the law required they disclose the information within 72 hours.
Instead, the news was made public when the convention newspaper The Pathway carried a story on its Web site Thursday, Aug. 26, announcing the $2.75 million sale after the 72-hour deadline had passed.
The paper’s managing editor, Bob Baysinger, was fired Oct. 11 for writing the story, which unwittingly violated a pledge by the convention’s executive director to keep the contract secret. That would have allowed the county time to negotiate with other landowners in the 200 block of East High Street in Jefferson City before details of the sale became public.
Executive Director David Clippard reportedly reprimanded and later fired Baysinger for “premature” release of the story, which he said might jeopardize the sale going through.
But Angle, a United Methodist and former city council member, said the newspaper staff should not be blamed for actions of individuals trying to keep information secret they were required by law to disclose. He has filed a complaint with the state’s attorney general requesting both the Aug. 23 vote and the contract be ruled null and void.
“While some in the Missouri Baptist Convention apparently are blaming certain staff of the Pathway newspaper, maybe the Christian thing to do is to ask their leadership whether or not they were led—or misled—by the Cole County Commission to believe the contract details could have been kept secret outside the 72-hour period provide by law,” Angle said.
Angle said he found it “extremely hard to believe” that Baptist leaders “would have knowingly or purposely been a party to an agreement” to violate the Missouri Sunshine Law, but he urged the convention’s executive board to investigate.
Clippard said Monday in a statement to EthicsDaily.com that the MBC executive board agreed not to release a story about the building sale through the convention’s news service until after a press conference planned by the Cole County Commission.
“We have no reason to believe that our agreement or negotiations regarding the sale contract have violated any laws,” Clippard said. “Likewise, the internal management decisions of the MBC have nothing to do with Sunshine Laws as we understand.”
Clippard, a former associate executive director with the Oklahoma Baptist Convention, was named executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention in 2001. His tenure has been marked by turmoil–first from a lawsuit filed by the convention to regain power to elect trustees of five agencies that had moved to self-perpetuating boards and later by a lawsuit alleging libel, slander, gender discrimination and retaliation by a former financial comptroller fired for misconduct after she tried to retrieve an e-mail mistakenly sent to Clippard’s office computer.
Clippard has criticized earlier reporting on Baysinger’s dismissal by EthicsDaily.com as “conjecture” and “innuendo.” He declined to comment on Baysinger’s employment status, however, calling it an “internal personnel matter” that “by its nature is not something we discuss in a public forum.”
The Missouri Baptist Convention launched The Pathway in June 2002 to replace Word & Way as the convention’s official news journal. That was in response to a vote by Word & Way trustees to elect their own trustees and reject more conservative nominees from the convention.
Like many established Baptist state newspapers, Word & Way has a separate board to allow greater editorial independence. The Pathway, meanwhile, is accountable to a committee of the convention executive board.
Baysinger has been granted a hearing on possible reinstatement with executive board leaders on Dec. 13.
The Missouri Baptist Convention voted in 2003 to authorize the executive board to pursue a possible sale of the Baptist Building. The Aug. 23 contract with the county is contingent on voters approving a half-cent law enforcement sales tax in February.
Convention leaders are studying whether to keep the headquarters in Jefferson City or to relocate.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.