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Crowd voices displeasure with Extension

by Danielle Hillix
Landmark reporter

Last month, the Platte County Extension Council decided in a closed session to terminate the positions of bookkeeper/office assistant and office manager held at the time by Rose Marie Lawrence and Sandra Cox.

A human resources employee, hired by the Extension Council, informed Lawrence and Cox of the decision on the morning of June 5 when they arrived at work.

At a special meeting on Monday night, the Extension Council board heard many concerns of citizens over the "reorganization" of the Extension office, which is an outreach program funded by the University of Missouri with some financial assistance from the county.

The official purpose of the previously-unscheduled meeting on Monday was to discuss a new position and job description of administrative assistant, the result of the consolidation of the jobs previously done by Lawrence and Cox.

"They decided to consolidate," said 2nd District County Commissioner Steve Wegner, the county's appointment representative to the board. "They're going from two positions down to one."

The board unanimously decided to place an advertisement seeking a person to maintain overall office operations, perform bookkeeping and data entry and all clerical office functions, among other things.

The discussion of this new position was the only item on the agenda, but the 30-plus curious citizens in attendance made sure it was not the only thing that happened at this special session.

Recognizing the unusually large crowd, Extension Council Chairperson Mary Ann Johnson opened the floor to speakers, imposing a strict three-minute per person time limit. Over 14 people took the opportunity to voice their concerns, though not many could complete their thoughts in three minutes.

Each speaker showed support for the eliminated employees and questioned the actions taken by the board.

"I believe you unfairly judged people," said Nigel Adkins of Edgerton. "An injustice has been done."

Hal Swaney of the Platte County Farm Bureau questioned not only the termination, but the legality of the closed session at which the termination was decided upon.

"I have concerns whether the closed session followed the Sunshine Laws," Swaney said. "I would like more explanation."

Diana Milne, human development specialist at the Extension office, also questioned the legality of the proceedings.

"This board is bound by legal standards," she read in a prepared statement, "and I believe there were breaches of those standards by the Extension as business was conducted."

Johnson refrained from commenting on legal issues, saying: "We're not going to discuss if we've done things legally."
She did admit that the concerns of the citizens were legitimate.

"People have a right to ask questions and they were able to do so," she said. "But there are two sides to every story and [they] have only heard one."
Stating legal reasons, Johnson declined to share the board's reasons behind the terminations.

"We can't discuss personnel problems. We're not supposed to do that."

She continued, "The board, of course, is trying to do what we feel is best for Extension in Platte County. We felt this was the way we had to do it."

The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the Extension Council board officers will be the first Monday in August. Johnson suggested that citizens with concerns submit them in writing to the Extension.