School board member denied closed session to discuss Baxter arson case

By Ralph Echtinaw

St. Louis school board member John D. Pavlik surprised everyone when he asked for a closed session near the end of the board’s regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 16.

Asked for his reason, Pavlik passed a document around the table. Every other board member and Superintendent Jennifer McKittrick read it without comment. Pavlik was then told that the contents of the document don’t meet the legal criteria for a closed session.

After the meeting Pavlik wouldn’t disclose the contents of the document to this reporter, saying: “If it was anything that amounts to a hill of beans I’d tell you.”

McKittrick emailed a copy of the document to this reporter two days later. It’s a letter from the office of Gratiot County Prosecutor Keith Kushion regarding a 29th Circuit Court case called “The People of the State of Michigan v. Bradley Lynn Baxter.”

The letter advises Pavlik that he may be subpoenaed to appear at a circuit court conference on Sept. 7 and/or a circuit court jury trial on Sept. 22. 

Baxter, 53, is charged with two felony counts: Third Degree Arson and Arson – Preparation to Burn Real Property. He pleaded not guilty on both counts at a May 27 arraignment. If a plea deal isn’t reached on Sept. 7 the trial will begin on Sept. 22, said Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Shephard via email.

Baxter allegedly set fire to a dilapidated house on the school district’s Camp Monroe property on the south side of Jackson Road east of State Road last February. The fire was reported by a motorist on Jackson Road, Shephard said. Baxter himself lives on Jackson Road and is a neighbor of Camp Monroe.

Pavlik appears to be off the hook as a witness. “The letter that was sent to Mr. Pavlik is a standard form letter that is sent to all victims, notifying them of upcoming hearings,” Shephard said. “It is prepared and mailed by Jan Donley, our victim/witness coordinator. I do not intend to call John Pavlik as a witness at any hearing or trial. He has been designated a ‘victim’ because the structure is owned by St. Louis Public Schools, and my office was advised to direct all victim rights information to his attention.”

That said, Shephard won’t rule out calling other school board members or administrators to the witness stand. She’s not required to disclose her witness list at this time.

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