BOONVILLE - The Boonville City Council wasted no time last night in rejecting a controversial proposal for the purchase of the former Kemper Military School.
The city council spent just a few minutes on the proposal in open session, though the matter had been scheduled for a closed meeting. No discussion preceded the motion by Councilman Morris Carter to reject the proposal and return a $100,000 check that was given as proof of intent to purchase the property by Robert Lichfield.
The eight-member council voted unanimously to reject the sale, with one council member, Glenwood Einspahr, absent.
Lichfield, a Utah businessman, and business associate Randall Hinton have drawn media attention since their offer to buy the 50-acre Kemper property became public March 24.
Lichfield is the founder of World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, a network of teen behavior-modification programs in the United States and abroad that is facing scrutiny by law enforcement and legislators for allegations of child abuse.
Kemper Military School closed in 2002, and the city of Boonville later purchased the property for about $500,000. Lichfield planned to purchase the property through Golden Pond Investments Ltd. of Utah, which he owns with his wife and other partners.
Hinton, who planned with his brother Russell Hinton to reopen the school as a military-style academy, has worked for several World Wide programs and is owner of White River Adventure, a Puerto Rico boarding school for defiant teens.
At least one former student of his has alleged abuse by Hinton, including the use of pepper spray and humiliation tactics.
Hinton has declined to comment on the allegations, saying only that he believes he helped the teen overcome drug addiction.
Many Boonville residents expressed concern about the prospective sale last week at a public hearing. Boonville police recommended further investigation into World Wide and its leaders before the city council made a decision.
City Hall observers speculated last week that the council would throw out the proposal, as it attracted unwanted attention to the city. Mayor Danielle Blanck said after the meeting that the decision reflected her cityís consternation about behavior-modification programs.
"I just think that the community didnít want to have that kind of school in the middle of town," she said.
Before the vote, Columbia activist Lesli Rackers implored the council to reject the offer, citing what she believed was evidence that Hinton would have continued his affiliation with World Wide despite his repeated denials to the contrary. Hinton said his financial connection to Lichfield does not guarantee an affiliation to the association.
Rackers, 34, said she called Hintonís White River Adventure yesterday morning to talk about her daughter, a sometimes-defiant but emotionally healthy teen. Within minutes, Rackers said, a staff member recommended she call Teen Help, World Wideís marketing arm.
"Itís with this finding and the knowledge I have about" World Wide "that Iíd oppose Randall Hinton and anyone else associated with" World Wide, she told the council.
Hinton denied that his school makes referrals to World Wide affiliates. "I could not imagine that," he said.
Mark Farrell, secretary of the Kemper Military School Alumni Association, said none of the allegations against World Wide and Hinton has been substantiated. He said few investors besides Lichfield would likely have the estimated $15 million needed to fix the aging campus.
"How many other feasible offers has Boonville had?" Farrell asked.
Hinton said after the meeting that he felt saddened by the councilís decision. "Itís sad people donít want to help kids," he said.
He said he plans to look into other towns to see whether he could start up his program elsewhere. He declined to say which towns he will look at.
"Thereís about five other schools that are empty," he said.
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