News Three Rivers Commercial-News, Penny Saver, & Sturgis Sentinel

Former county prosecutor appointed to TR school board

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

THREE RIVERS — A former St. Joseph County prosecutor who lost re-election in the aftermath of a high-profile drunk driving arrest four years ago is now back in public service.

At a special meeting of the Three Rivers Community Schools Board of Education Monday, John McDonough was unanimously appointed to be the board’s newest member. He fills the seat vacated by the departure of former board member Ben Karle from the board earlier this month.

McDonough, who lives in the Three Rivers area, was selected for the appointment over four other applicants following brief interviews of each candidate by the board. The other four applicants were Amanda Allen, Tiffany Larson, Anthony Meyaard and Sam Smallcombe.

McDonough was sworn in following the approval of his appointment, and took his seat on the board near the end of Monday’s meeting, participating in the vote to adjourn the meeting.

Following the meeting, McDonough said he looks forward to working with his fellow board members to guide the school district in the next year.

“The thing I’m looking forward to most is working with the other six members of the board and making decisions that are best for the district,” McDonough said.

It is the second time McDonough has applied for a seat on the school board. In October 2021, he was one of six candidates who applied for the seat, which ultimately went to current board secretary Nichole Cover.

McDonough fills the term vacated by Karle, which lasts for 11 months until the end of the calendar year. The seat will be on the ballot in the November 2024 election, and it is not yet known whether McDonough intends to run for the seat.

The appointment of McDonough is his first time back in a public-facing role in St. Joseph County since he lost re-election for the title of St. Joseph County prosecutor in 2020 to David Marvin after three terms in the role. That re-election loss was due in part to a high-profile and highly-scrutinized drunk driving arrest in May 2020, when McDonough crashed his SUV into a fence in the 17000 block of Lover’s Lane in Lockport Township. He was charged by the Michigan Attorney General’s office a month later with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and having open intoxicants inside a motor vehicle.

In January 2021, McDonough pled guilty in Kalamazoo County Eighth District Court to a charge of operating while visibly impaired, and was sentenced to one year of probation with a continuation of his alcohol treatment program; he was taken off probation in July of 2021 after review.

McDonough, who has remained sober since his sentencing and has a private law practice, said following Monday’s meeting that it feels good being back in public service four years after his arrest.

“I’ve missed it a lot. It was a privilege to be the prosecutor for as long as I was, and I look forward to again serving my community,” McDonough said. “I understand that I made a mistake, and I’m glad to have this opportunity.”

McDonough was the last of the five candidates to be interviewed by the board during Monday’s meeting. He said the strengths he brought to the role included a love of community, having a different perspective with his background in law, and working and collaborating with others. He said his interest in the position was because of his enjoyment of being a public servant.

“I want to assist my community in anything I possibly. With kids in the district and my mother being a school teacher for 31 years here in the district and my father being a member of the board here for a number of years, it means a lot to me,” McDonough said. “I would put the community first and put what’s best for our district first.”

He said the biggest roles and responsibilities for the district are to make the best decisions for the school district and to be transparent.

“First and foremost, it’s to make the best decisions for the school district, whether it be with the budget or disciplinary things that may pop-up over time and just the day-to-day things that happen,” McDonough said. “Another role is to be very transparent and to listen to the community when they come talk to you, because those are parents and members of community and their voices matter as well.”

When asked how to differentiate between running a school district and governing a district, McDonough said running the district is up to the superintendent, while the board oversees the district.

“It’s up to the superintendent to make the day-to-day decisions and do all that stuff,” McDonough said. “Governing the school district is planning the budget, looking at things and setting the framework for the superintendent to follow, and allowing her to make the day-to-day decisions necessary to keep the district running. The board is kind of overseeing everything; it’s kind of like the board is Congress and the superintendent is president.”

When asked how he would handle possible differences in opinion, McDonough said a board is not a “dictatorship,” but a “democracy,” saying he would accept if the majority of the board has a different opinion of a situation than he does.

“If I had a different opinion than some of the other members of the board, and it was a majority of people who had the opposite opinion of mine or a different one than mine, then you just have to accept it,” McDonough said. “The important thing about having a board is to have all the different perspectives and opinions and have them collectively make a decision. People are going to have differing opinions; people have differing opinions about just about everything. It’s about working together and coming to what decision is best to the district.”

Overall, when it came time to score the candidates, McDonough was the first choice of three of the board members and the second choice of one other. Smallcombe and Larson were runners-up, with Smallcombe being the first choice of two board members and the second choice of one, and Larson being the first choice of one board member and the second choice of three. Meyaard was the second choice of one board member to round out the scoring.

Board Vice President Melissa Bliss said it was great to see “well-qualified candidates” apply for the position, while Board President Erin Nowak thanked those who interviewed for the position, saying it was great to have a big pool of candidates to choose from.

“I remember there was a time when people were begging people to come be a part of this. Now, to see all this interest of all these different groups and diverse groups of people, it’s cool,” Nowak said. “It’s how we keep the community’s interest vested in this school district, and this is how we move the school district forward positively.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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