Gov. Eric Greitens violated a state law when he removed Melissa Gelner, of Springfield, from the State Board of Education after she had participated in one meeting, House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said this week.
But Parker Briden, Greitens' spokesman, said House Democrats "are flat wrong" and "their press release is nothing more than a political stunt."
Greitens named Gelner to the eight-member board July 31, and she participated in the Aug. 15 meeting after taking her oath of office.
Gelner still faced Senate confirmation in January but was allowed by the state Constitution to begin serving on the board.
She said in September the governor removed her before the Sept. 19 meeting because she wouldn't commit to voting to oust Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven from her job.
It has been reported Greitens wants to replace Vandeven with someone who supports a greater use of charter schools in Missouri education.
McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said Wednesday "professional politician and part-time governor" Greitens' action violated a state law that says: "No (State Board of Education) member may be removed by the governor except after written notice and hearing on charges of malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in office."
On Thursday, Briden countered: "The Missouri Constitution and state law clearly give Gov. Greitens the power to withdraw recess (out-of-session) appointments to the State Board of Education at any point prior to a confirmation vote in the Senate.
He pointed to language in the Constitution that "heads of all the executive departments shall be appointed by the governor, by and with the advice and consent of the senate. All appointive officers may be removed by the governor."
But McCann Beatty disagreed, saying the cited constitutional language only applies to the appointment and removal of state executive department directors under the governor's control.
Briden told the News Tribune, "the governor's actions are obviously legal," noting a state law that says: "The governor shall have power and he is hereby authorized to remove from office, without assigning any other reason therefor, any appointive state official required by law to be appointed by the governor, whenever in his opinion such removal is necessary for the betterment of the public service."
McCann Beatty's first news release Wednesday also pointed to a four-page attorney general's opinion written in 1977, that includes the finding the governor doesn't have the power to remove someone who already is acting on the board — unless the removal is done under the constitutional language Briden said supports the governor's power and McCann Beatty said only applies to department heads.
"The governor knows little about state law and cares less, so it comes as no surprise that his attempt to legally justify the unlawful removal of a State Board of Education member fails miserably," McCann Beatty said.
"It is a well-established rule of statutory construction that a specific law trumps a general one. So, while (the law) cited by the governor grants a general power to remove appointed officials, it is trumped by (the State Board law), which specifically prohibits the governor from removing a state school board member without cause or due process."
Several lawmakers and education groups have said this week the board should keep Vandeven because her leadership has been good for Missouri's schools.
A special State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday — but the Associated Press and other media have reported Greitens doesn't have the five votes needed to fire Vandeven, even though he's appointed five board members.