The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 Board hears claims on three separate issues
By Seth Hancock
Allegations of Open Meetings Act (OMA) violations as well as felony-level misconduct by School District U-46 employees were made at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Oct. 19, and based on the OMA and Illinois Criminal Code, those allegations appear to have some weight.
The Elgin Police Department was called and asked to make arrests for OMA violations at the closed session meeting that started at 5:15 p.m. There were three meetings, including the board’s Finance Committee meeting at 4 p.m. and the business meeting at 7 p.m., but regarding the allegation the district claimed the closed and business meetings were all one meeting.
Officers did arrive on the scene, but no arrests were made.
Kirk Allen and John Kraft, co-founders of the Edgar County Watchdogs, attended and attempted to make public comments at the closed session meeting but were denied. Section 2.06 of the OMA explains the public’s right to speak and that each meeting needs a portion set for public comments.
However, the district’s chief legal officer Miguel Rodriguez claimed the closed and open session meetings were “one meeting with separate sessions” despite the fact the board meets in different rooms for each session. On the boarddocs.com/il/u46/board.nsf/public, separate agendas with adjournments on each are available to the public for both closed and business sessions.
“There’s been a misunderstanding by some individuals that we’re having two meetings,” Rodriguez said at the start of the business meeting. “This is actually one meeting, and pursuant to the Illinois Open Meetings Act that meeting can have a meeting start in open then they can go into closed session.”
Kraft, who spoke at the previous board meeting to support board member Jeanette Ward’s right to listen to the Jan. 25, 2014 closed session meeting recording which occurred before she was elected, wasn’t buying Rodriguez’s response when he spoke at the business meeting.
“First of all, I’d like to inform everybody here that Mr. Rodriguez is wrong, and he couldn’t be any more wrong,” Kraft said. “There was no misunderstanding [by] a couple of people. The misunderstanding is on everybody sitting at that table in front of you.”
Kraft noted the separate agendas with adjournments as proof of separate meetings, and Bartlett resident Art Pierscionek agreed. Pierscionek, who spoke primarily on Ward’s attempt to listen to closed session recordings, noted that the closed session agenda states separate starting times for each.
Pierscionek said about Rodriguez’s response: “It’s very misleading, and I think you may be misrepresented what was going on here tonight.”
“I spent a career in the military, and if there’s one thing that I’ve seen all over the country is when people’s rights are suppressed we have problems,” Allen said. “There’s nothing in this country more foundational then the public’s right to address their governing body.”
Allen added that “those are three separate meetings contrary to what your legal counsel has advised you. And we will prove that, and we will be back to prove that.”
The Edgar County Watchdogs travel across the state to promote “accountability to the law and compliance to statutes” among governing bodies regardless of ideology according to Allen. Allen added that they are either met with open arms or resistance, and resistance appears to be the case in U-46 as he said “what happened tonight was a travesty.”
The illegal activity allegations didn’t end with the alleged OMA violation as Allen spoke on the inappropriate uses of purchasing cards by U-46 employees. Allen and his group uncovered the issue last spring, as previously reported by The Examiner, through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Allen cited Article VIII, Section 1 of the Illinois Constitution which states: “Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes.”
From a FOIA request, it showed that p-cards were used for personal use by several employees, such as buying baseball tickets for the Oakland Athletics to haircuts and personal trips. The district administration admitted to inappropriate uses after it was uncovered, that those expenses have been reimbursed and the district’s updated its p-card usage policy. But Allen asks “who’s being held accountable for the illegal spending?”
Allen claimed those inappropriate uses rise to the level of official misconduct, a Class 3 felony. None of the employees inappropriately using the p-cards have been punished other than paying back those expenses, but punishment may be warranted according to Article 33 of the Illinois Criminal Code.
That portion of the code states that a public employee who “knowingly performs an act which he knows he is forbidden by law to perform” is committing official misconduct, and the reimbursement of inappropriate uses appears to be an admission of guilt. Any employee “convicted of violating any provision of this Section forfeits his or her… employment” and a possibility of up to five years in jail, and those in U-46 possibly guilty of official misconduct are still employed by the district.
Pierscionek also alleged illegal activity, this coming from the board based on its denying Ward access to the closed meeting recording. Ward, Cody Holt and Phil Costello voted yes while Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr and Donna Smith voted no at the previous board meeting for a 3-3 split.
Because of the split, the board voted again on Oct. 19 with Veronica Noland, who missed the previous vote, in attendance as she broke the tie and it was again denied, this time 4-3. Costello was out of town for work but was able to vote via phone, and he again joined Holt and Ward in voting yes.
Pierscionek said after the last meeting he wrote a letter to the Kane County State’s Attorney asking for charges of obstruction of justice to be brought against board members whom “I believe illegally voted to keep Mrs. Ward from listening to those tapes.” His comments, coming before the second vote, included him saying he would include Noland if she voted no that evening.