By Peter Downs
Filed Tuesday, January 3 at 9:40 AM
by Peter Downs
January 1, 2006 –– As the year 2005 wound to an end, the culture of deception at the top of St. Louis Public Schools continued. On December 23, 2005, St. Louis Public Schools superintendent Creg Williams apparently said one thing to one audience, and denied it to another.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that day ran an article about the district hiring a New York public relations agency as part of a $450,000 plan to "buoy a sinking image," with the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation paying the bill. Williams was quoted as justifying the plan, saying, "I'm in crisis mode."
In a letter dated the same day, from the school board's director of operations Charles Burton, Williams said he has no information about relationships with any public relations firm. His broad answer even denied knowledge of the district's contract with a St. Louis public relations firm, UNICOM-ARC, which the board hired shortly after Williams' debut in St. Louis.
Burton's letter was in response to December 7 request from school board member Bill Purdy for information from Williams and school board president Darnetta Clinkscale. Purdy's request were motivated by a news release the night before from "Friends of St. Louis Public Schools" that inaccurately reported on a closed executive session of the school board that same night. The news release claimed that a statement was read at the meeting exonerating Floyd Irons of any wrongdoing at Vashon. Purdy and other board members said no such statement was read, although Williams did unveil plans for school audits. Williams and Clinkscale later made comments to the press similar to the phantom statements reportedly made at the closed meeting.
Purdy, in an official request under Missouri's Sunshine Law, wanted to know, among other things, who was responsible for the press release, what public relations firms were working with the school district and who was paying them.
To every one of Purdy's requests, the answer was, "The district administration of the St. Louis Public Schools is not in possession of any documents that are responsive to this request."