A Missouri Baptist journalist fired for reporting details of a proposed sale of the Missouri Baptist Convention headquarters says he feels vindicated by voter rejection of a sales tax to fund construction of a new jail on the site.
Cole County voters on Tuesday rejected a sales tax to fund a new jail complex in Jefferson City by a 3-to-1 margin, voiding a contract for pending sale of the Baptist Building for $2.75 million.
County officials in August agreed to buy the Baptist Building, contingent on voters approving a half-cent sales tax to finance a proposed $36 million Justice Center in downtown Jefferson City.
The acquisition, the first of several to clear the way for construction of the facility, was challenged by a local attorney who charged county commissioners with violating Missouri’s Sunshine Law by trying to keep the deal secret while they negotiated with owners of other properties.
Bob Baysinger, former managing editor of convention news journal The Pathway, said Thursday that Executive Director David Clippard worked with Cole County officials to keep the county’s plan a secret as long as possible and then fired him for unknowingly violating that pledge.
In his first public statements since his Oct. 11 firing for insubordination, Baysinger told EthicsDaily.com that Clippard “fired me because I followed the instructions of my supervisor and wrote a news article about Missouri Baptists signing a contract to sell the Baptist Building to the county.”
The final unofficial results of Tuesday’s county election were 9,752 votes (74.4 percent) against the tax and 3,348 (25.6 percent) in favor of the proposal, the Jefferson City News-Tribune reported Wednesday.
Baysinger said he believes the overwhelming rejection of the plan vindicates him.
“Voters did not reject the plan because I wrote a story in the official state Baptist newspaper,” Baysinger said. “They rejected the plan because of the suspicion that secrecy breeds. Voters thought it was foolish to pay $2.75 million for a building and then tear it down.”
Citing unnamed sources, EthicsDaily.com reported previously that Baysinger was assigned to write a story reporting the contract for sale to be posted on the newspaper’s Web site Friday, Aug. 27, but he turned it in a day early after getting a green light from a convention officer.
Sources said Baysinger was unaware that Clippard had told the county he would keep the sale quiet. He reportedly apologized but was fired anyway.
In his statement Thursday Baysinger said Clippard claimed the news story damaged his integrity and the integrity of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Clippard has said that Baysinger’s employment is a personnel matter, which he declined to discuss in the press.
A Wednesday story on The Pathway Web site said the Baptist Building is still for sale.
“We will be entertaining other possible buyers and contracts,” Clippard said. “At this moment in time, we have no other buyers identified.”
Clippard told The Pathway the convention is under no pressure to sell the 77-year-old former hotel, which has served as the Baptist headquarters since 1970.
“It has served Missouri Baptists well,” Clippard said of the building. “But we will continue to explore its sale and replacement in an effort to lower overall operations costs and thereby channel more dollars into missions, church planting and helping our churches fulfill their Great Commission mandate of Acts 1:8.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.