SIKESTON -- After weighing his options, Eric Kesler decided Wednesday to step down from his position on the Scott County Central school board.
Kesler said his written resignation, which was effective immediately, came out of concern the issue of his residency was creating too much of a distraction for the district, its teachers and students.
"The controversy (over the past couple months) has been awful," Kesler said.
Kesler said he didn't want the district, teachers and students to suffer from the attention.
"I can take the black eyes," Kesler said. "But I don't want the district to take the black eyes, and it was starting to rub off on Scott Central."
Kesler said he talked to the state attorney general's office at the beginning of the week to figure out a way he could still stay on the board, but there was no loophole.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever had to give up," Kesler said. "This is something I've always wanted to do, and just to quit -- I don't like to quit."
In Missouri, school board members are required to live in the district in which they serve.
The issue of Kesler's residency initially was raised in a Southeast Missourian article in June. In July a complaint, which can be initiated by anyone in the state, was filed in the state attorney general's office.
An investigation was then conducted by the attorney general's office, and it was determined Kesler, who lives in rural Scott County, resided in the Oran school district and not the Scott County Central school district.
School officials have since learned it was Southeast Missourian reporter Mark Bliss who filed the complaint.
"It wasn't an issue with anyone in our district," Dr. Joby Holland, superintendent, said. "The person who complained has no ties to our district, and that's what makes it disappointing for Mr. Kesler."
Kesler said he now understands he doesn't live in the district -- something he didn't know before the election. But what he said he can't understand is why the reporter would file a complaint.
"I thought they're supposed to report the news -- not create it," Kesler said about the media.
Jon K. Rust, publisher of the Southeast Missourian, said Kesler is right.
"Working with editors and reporting on Mr. Kesler's residency so that a community may choose its own direction is one thing. For a reporter to file a complaint on his own and thereby inject himself into the story while, additionally, reporting on the story, displays a serious breech of our newspaper's ethics.
"The reporter, who has explained to me that he had no ill intentions towards Mr. Kesler but was concerned simply about the law, is being disciplined," Rust said.
The issue is addressed in today's Southeast Missourian.
Kesler, a Scott County farmer, graduated from Scott County Central High School. His wife teaches at Scott County Central and their children attend school there as a result of that. His father served on the school board for years.
"He's doing what's best for the school," Holland said about Kesler's decision to resign. "... He went through the proper channels and was certified to be on the election ballot."
Holland said Kesler's intent was nothing but honorable.
"He lived every year of his life in our district until the last year and owns three houses in our district. He could have falsified his address, but he didn't. His only goal was to try and help the district and give back to where he came from," Holland said.
Now that Kesler has resigned, the next step for the Scott County Central school board is for the remaining members to appoint someone to serve until the next school board election.
With the next regularly scheduled board meeting three weeks away, Holland said the board members haven't yet discussed details of the appointment process.
"I would assume they would try to do something as quickly as possible," Holland said.
Brent Gahn, spokesman for Missouri School Boards' Association, said when members resign, it's recommended districts advertise and accept applications or letters for the board to review and then go through an interview process.
Gahn said sometimes candidates who didn't win the election are appointed to fill the spot.
Holland said the board hasn't discussed replacements either.
"The board will probably look at anyone who's interested," Holland said. Even though he's no longer on the board, Kesler said he plans to still be involved in the district.
"I know all of them, and they've known me all my life," Kesler said about Scott County Central residents. "I got on the board to help them and the kids, and I'm sorry I had to go. I never lied about anything."
Kesler said he never would have moved if he'd known he'd be living in a different district. Of all the farms and rent homes his family owns, Kesler's current home is the only one not located within the district's boundaries, he said. "I just live one-eighth of a mile in the wrong direction," Kesler said.
Kesler said he hopes to relocate into the district in the near future.
"I will run again," Kesler said.