St. Joseph, Missouri School Board president contends criminally charged member is a ‘leader’

When candidates for the St. Joseph, Missouri Board of Education were asked how to bring more civility to the board, its President Latonya Williams praised the current board for its leadership,…

When candidates for the St. Joseph, Missouri Board of Education were asked how to bring more civility to the board, its President Latonya Williams praised the current board for its leadership, despite one member facing charges of second-degree assault against another. 

“I believe that every member of my board is a leader,” Williams said. “If that were not the case, then we would not have ended up in our positions.”

Williams’ comments were made at a candidate forum Thursday morning hosted by the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce. Eight of the nine candidates running for election spoke at the event, which was moderated by Eagle Radio’s Brent Martin

Williams is running to retain her position. District voters will fill three seats in the April 2 election.

Though it was not mentioned at the forum, the question on civility comes in light of the recent controversy surrounding board member Whitney Lanning. 

Lanning is facing calls to resign after surveillance video showed her harassing other board members, allegedly screaming profanities and threatening violence. The video, published last week, shows Lanning hounding board member Isaura Garcia, with board member David Foster appearing to shield Garcia from Lanning’s advances.

Lanning is charged with second-degree harassment, the most serious type of misdemeanor in Missouri, punishable by a fine up to $2,000 and a year in jail.

Williams’ comment that everyone on her board “is a leader” stood in contrast to the other candidates on the stage, who stressed the need for the board to set a good example for the community. 

“I think the key when it comes to working together is that you can disagree, you can be diverse, and you can have dialogue without degrading the person you are talking to,” Jacob McMillian, pastor of Journey Baptist Church, said at the forum. “I would like to see that on our board. I would like us to get back to setting an agenda, not interrupting people, staying on task, and not making things personal.”

Mike Moore, an Altec Engineering Manager, shared similar thoughts. 

“When I think of leadership and civility a couple things come to mind. First of all, just treating people how I like to be treated. … We need the type of trust where we can disagree with each other, but I can trust you enough that you’re not going to come back and beat me over the head with it when the meeting’s over, or during the meeting.”

For her part, Williams has said scant little about Lanning’s criminal charges. 

“The Board is aware of an incident arising from a disagreement among two board members occurring at the board meeting held on February 26, 2024,” Williams wrote in a statement. “It is our understanding that this incident has been referred to outside agencies for appropriate action as warranted. The Board emphasizes that individual board members are responsible for their own actions and do not speak or act on the board’s behalf unless they are designated by the board to do so.”

Lanning is scheduled to appear in court April 3, one day after the election.

Meanwhile, resident Kristi Green lamented Williams’ characterization of Lanning as a “leader,” considering the threatening nature of the charge against her.

“It’s sad that LaTonya Williams would say that all board members were leaders, even when one of the members has been charged with a violent crime. That’s not the example we want to set for our students.”