Gov. Mike Parson says he’s taking a hands-off approach to filling two high-paying cabinet positions in his administration.
The looming departures of Zora Mulligan as the state’s higher education commissioner and May Scheve-Reardon as the long-time director of the Missouri Lottery have opened the door to new leadership.
But, in each case, the agencies are governed by commissions, rather than overseen directly by the governor.
That, a spokeswoman said, means the Republican governor is not getting directly involved in the search for replacements.
“Governor Parson appoints the members of Commissions and has chosen individuals who he believes will make the right decisions on behalf of the people of Missouri. Each Commission determines its leader,” aide Kelli Jones said. “Governor Parson is confident each Commission will appoint a strong leader who will continue to move Missouri forward.”
Parson’s public attitude is different than his predecessor, former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in 2018 under a cloud of scandal.
Greitens, a Republican who is attempting a political comeback this year as a candidate for U.S. Senate, spent much of 2017 stacking the state school board with his own appointees. Without any public explanation, the new board members then moved to fire Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven, despite her receiving high marks from school advocates and other education observers.
A year later, after Greitens had left office, Vandeven was rehired.
As governor, Parson has had a penchant for picking current or former lawmakers for jobs in his administration, giving most of them a raise from their $39,500 House or Senate salaries to boost their taxpayer-funded pensions down the line.
Scheve-Reardon earned $127,954 in 2021, while Mulligan pulled in $182,052.
In May, Mulligan was hired as executive vice president at Missouri State University after nearly six years at the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development.
The Coordinating Board for Higher Education met in May to discuss the transition, placing deputy commissioner Leroy Wade to serve as interim commissioner once Mulligan leaves.
Mulligan, the longest-serving commissioner in the past 20 years, helped oversee a transition to absorb two workforce development divisions into the agency at the direction of Parson.
Wade has been with the department in various capacities since January 1986. He served as interim commissioner after former commissioner Dr. David Russell retired in 2016.
Scheve-Reardon, a former Democratic state lawmaker who served as director of the Lottery for more than 13 years, announced she was quitting earlier this month. She intends to stay through July 29.
She said battles with the Legislature over her agency’s budget, as well as their inability to stop the spread of illegal video gambling machines in convenience stores and gas stations, led her to step down.
Lottery Commission President Lance Mayfield of Viburnum said he has reached out to the governor’s office for any direction on filling the vacancy.
The plan, for now, is to hire an interim director who will not be a candidate for the full-time position, Mayfield said.
If Parson has a particular person in mind for either the interim or full-time post, Mayfield is not aware of it.
“It’s not been made known to me,” Mayfield said. “They haven’t actually said they have someone in mind.”
Mayfield said he plans to schedule a special meeting of the lottery commission to discuss the opening, with an eye on hiring someone by mid- to late fall.
“We are mapping it all out,” he said.
Although Parson said he’s staying out of the search for directors, Jones said he does have an opinion on their backgrounds.
“Governor Parson wants leaders who are public servants. He wants them to get up every day and work hard to ensure the needs of others are met. He wants leaders who never stop working to make the lives of others better,” Jones said. “Governor Parson often stresses that being a good leader isn’t about being the best, but making those around you better.”