Governor demands resignation of David Steelman from University of Missouri curators

Steelman raised objections about an adviser to the governor using his connections to the university to seek business for other lobbying clients

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson at a bill signing in St. Louis in October 2020 (photo courtesy of Missouri Governor's Office).

Gov. Mike Parson is demanding that David Steelman, the longest-serving member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, resign to make way for a replacement.

In a letter dated April 14, Parson wrote to Steelman that an orderly process for replacing curators in expired terms “is critical at this juncture in order to provide predictability and clarity to the University of Missouri System…”

Steelman, a Republican from Rolla, was appointed to the board in 2014 by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. His term expired on Jan. 1, 2019, but Parson, a Republican, refrained from naming a replacement until last month, when he nominated Keith Holloway of Cape Girardeau.

Holloway’s nomination — and Parson’s letter — came after Steelman raised objections about a close adviser to the governor who lobbies for the UM system using his connections to the university to seek business for other clients.

The Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee held a hearing Wednesday on Holloway’s appointment, but no vote was taken on any of the six nominees who received hearings.

David Steelman (University of Missouri photo)

In a text message to The Independent, Steelman wrote that he has not resigned and has not responded to Parson.

“I will do what is right for the University of Missouri,” Steelman wrote. 

He declined to comment further on the letter.

The Senate cannot vote on Holloway’s nomination until he receives a favorable committee vote. Steelman wrote that he will participate in Thursday’s regular quarterly board meeting

The Independent obtained the letter by sending Sunshine Law requests to members of the board seeking recent communications from Parson. Steelman provided the letter in his response.

Parson has not made a similar demand of Maurice Graham, a Democrat who is in a term that expired Jan. 1. In his response, Graham wrote that the only communication he has received from Parson’s office was an invitation to a May 11 reception for members of state boards and commissions at the Governor’s Mansion.

Steelman’s response did not indicate that he had received the invitation.

Julia Brncic, a Republican who also is serving after the end of her term, did not respond Wednesday to the Sunshine request from The Independent.

The governor’s office did not respond Wednesday to questions about the timing and purpose of asking Steelman to leave before the Senate has confirmed his replacement.

The letter demanding Steelman resign is the latest episode in this year’s political fight over the board, which has also seen a lengthy filibuster over the appointment of former Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves to a Kansas City-area seat.

Parson broke the filibuster, which consumed more than 11 hours of Senate floor time over two days, by cutting a deal with Democrats. But he refused one with Republicans opposed to Graves who demanded that the governor allow Steelman to remain on the board until the end of the year.

In his letter, Parson told Steelman that by resigning, he could open the door for Holloway to be confirmed.

“Addressing expired terms at this juncture also allows the Missouri Senate to consider curator nominees for advice and consent based on their individual capability to serve rather than fueling the instability that results from a significant bloc of curators who remain too long on an expired term,” Parson wrote.

The letter was written a week after the filibuster, when it was clear that Holloway would not be confirmed in time for Thursday’s board meeting.

On the day after the filibuster, sources told The Independent that Parson was furious with Steelman over the fact that he contacted UM System President Mun Choi with concerns about Steve Tilley, a former House speaker and Parson adviser who lobbies for the university. 

Steelman felt Tilley was trying to leverage his position to score contracts for his other clients, and worried he would lose his spot on the curators if he didn’t “play ball.”

Tilley worked behind the scenes to get Graves confirmed. 

Curators serve six-year terms and govern the four-campus university system. The nine curators are appointed for six year terms but under state law they, like most appointees subject to Senate confirmation, remain in their post until replaced. 

When the legislature is in session, nominees must be confirmed before they can take their seat. When the legislature is not in session, appointments take effect immediately, with confirmation hearings taking place when lawmakers return.

That means Parson can replace Steelman as early as 6 p.m. May 14 if Holloway has not been confirmed by that time.

In his letter to Steelman, Parson reminded him that he decided in 2018 to retain him on the board through 2019 without appointing him to a new term. And, Parson wrote, in January 2020 he met with Steelman to discuss his future on the board.

At that time, Parson wrote, Steelman “expressed a desire and willingness to either remain on the Board of Curators on your expired term, receive re-appointment to the Board of Curators on a new term, or depart from your expired term on the Board of Curators at a time of my choosing.”

Now is that time, Parson wrote.

“Upon reflection on our January 9, 2020, conversation, I accept your offer to resign from your expired term and thank you for more than 27 months service beyond your appointed term,” Parson wrote. “Please submit a resignation letter from your expired term on the Board of Curators pursuant to your January 9, 2020, offer.”

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