Monday, June 16, 2014

Breaking News: The Illinois Attorney General Rules D181 Board of Education Violated the Open Meetings Act

Earlier today, the Hinsdale Doings online edition posted a story titled "District 181 board erred in holding closed session."  The full story can be found at the following link:

Chuck Fieldman, the reporter, wrote in part:

"The Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Elementary District 181 Board violated the Open Meetings Act Oct. 17 by holding a closed session discussion not authorized by any exception to the general requirement that public bodies openly conduct business, the Attorney General’s Office ruled.

The decision by the public access counselor resulted from a request for review filed Dec. 5 by former board member Yvonne Mayer, who alleged the board improperly discussed her request for a report on her claim she was assaulted during an April 22, 2013, closed session by a fellow board member. Mayer requested the fellow board member be removed from the district’s Finance Committee following the alleged incident.
“In my opinion, it’s all about being fully transparent and pursuing appropriate open government standards,” said Mayer, who served on the board from May 2009 through April 2013.
The board was directed to release the portions of the closed session minutes and closed session verbatim recording that reflect the board’s discussion of Mayer’s request and its response.
Board President Marty Turek said he was holding off on making any comments, as the public access counselor’s opinion was still being reviewed....

....Based on the findings, the board was directed to release the portions of the closed session minutes and closed session verbatim recording that reflect the board’s discussion.

Mayer said she believes the board should now put the verbatim recording on its Web site along with the podcasts of all open sessions that are available for public hearing."

For all the critics of this blog that insist that the bloggers and some of the commenters only complain and do not help the district move forward, we respond as follows:

1.  It is very difficult to trust the BOE or past administrators when they violate the very laws that the Illinois legislators enacted to ensure open government and transparency.

2.  When the BOE thinks it is appropriate to violate the Open Meetings Act, and force a respected community member to file a complaint with the Public Access Counselors Office of the Attorney General's office in order to ensure that justice is served, it proves that something is very wrong with the public officials we elected to represent our interests.

3.  It would be interesting to know how much taxpayer money was wasted on attorneys fees by the BOE to unsuccessfully oppose Ms. Mayer's Open Meetings Act complaint. We challenge the administration to release this information to the public.

The only questions that now remain are:

Will the BOE comply with the directive that it release the verbatim recording of the executive session discussion that was in violation of the Open Meetings Act?

Will the BOE learn anything from this ruling and will any of the seven board members suggest that the full board participate in a public educational session on Open Meetings Act Compliance?

What will Dr. White say about this ruling, if anything?  We believe based upon what he accomplished in his former district, that he is a "transparency advocate."  This is his chance to take a public stand and publicly encourage the board to participate in Open Meetings Act training beyond the online training that all seven board members were already required to complete, but which obviously was not enough.

We challenge even one board member to insist that additional OMA training be scheduled during an upcoming board meeting and invite the Attorney General's Public Access Counselor to conduct it. 


Anonymous said...

They also violated the open meeting act at the boe meeting that Dr. Moon attended. In the middle of that meeting they broke into closed session to discuss which search firm to hire and then came back to open session with a unanimous decision.

Yvonne Mayer, Current Taxpayer, Former D181 Parent and Board Member said...

Below is an email I sent to Dr. White and the BOE last Friday asking that they provide me with a copy of the verbatim recording that the AG's office ordered them to release. I also asked them to post the recording on the D181 website at the podcast audio recordings link of all other public meetings. I am disappointed that four days later, I have not received a single response from these 8 individuals. Are they planning to ignore the AG's ruling?

Text of email to BOE and Dr White:
Subject: Illinois Attorney General's Ruling on 2013 PAC 27169
Date: Fri, 13 Jun 2014 08:15:48 -0500

Dear Dr. White and D181 Board of Education Members:

Attached is a copy of a Ruling I received on Wednesday from the Illinois Attorney General's Office on a Request for Review I filed last December -- 2013 PAC 27169 -- in which I alleged a violation of the Open Meetings Act by the BOE. According to the AG's letter, President Turek received a copy, and I want to make sure all of you have a copy, since all board members are entitled to have the same information.

The Attorney General's Office has ruled that the BOE violated the Open Meetings Act on October 17, 2013. It has directed you "to release the portions of the closed session minutes and closed session verbatim recording which reflect the Board's discussion of Ms. Mayer's requests and its response."

Accordingly, in the interest of full transparency and open governance, I am respectfully requesting that you post the "verbatim recording" of the portion of the executive session that the AG's office ruled was a violation of the OMA on the D181 website as an additional "podcast" of the October 17, 2013 open, public meeting. I would also like a CD copy. Since the practice of the BOE has been to post the audio recordings of all open meetings on the D181 website, and since the portion of the executive session that was deemed to violate the Open Meetings Act has now been found to constitute part of the 10/17/13 open and public meeting, I hope these requests are met without delay.

In addition, I believe that in the interest of transparency and self-improvement, the full BOE should publicly acknowledge this ruling at the next BOE meeting and engage in a constructive discussion on how to avoid this type of violation in the future. Any discussion by the BOE via email on this matter would, in my opinion, be a further violation of the OMA. Refusal by the BOE to "self-correct" by publicly admitting to this violation will not further the purposes of the OMA or the District's goal of being transparent. I would, therefore, respectfully request that this matter be put on the next board meeting agenda for discussion by Dr. White and the full board and would appreciate a response from all of you as to whether or not the BOE is willing to do so.

Respectfully submitted,

Yvonne Mayer
D181 Taxpayer and Former School Board Member (2009-2013)"

HMS Parent said...

Dr. White should lead a public discussion of this ruling at next week's board meeting. It will show our community that he believes in transparency. Turek should have been able to make a "comment" to the reporter rather than hide behind excuses that the opinion was being reviewed. Not very transparent and what does that statement really even mean? Who exactly is reviewing the ruling before he can make a comment? Just Mr. Turek? The full board? Will they be discussing it in closed session and further violating the Open Meetings Act? Or is it being reviewed by the district's lawyers at the cost of several hundred dollars per hour? Time to stop the violations and waste of tax payer $. Time to start complying with the laws of open governance.

Anonymous said...

Why would the BOE and Dr. White ignore this ruling? Why have they let 4 days go by, not even acknowledge Ms. Mayer's email, not give her a copy of the verbatim recording or post it on the D181 website for everyone to hear? Very disappointed in Dr. White if the way he has chosen to handle this is to ignore her email and waste taxpayer money on more attorney fees.

Anonymous said...

Why can't Turek say "we were wrong," "we are sorry" and "here's how we're going to make sure we never violate the OMA again?"

Oh right, this is the man who doesn't believe in the Freedom of Information Act either. I've heard tell that he aspires to run for higher public office and that some people say he wants to be our governor one day. Good luck with that goal Mr. Turek. You've already shown your true political colors and the last thing the state of Illinois needs is another rule violator.

HMS Staff said...

To the poster at 10:53: I have to disagree that Marty Turek isn't for FOIA either. He may be against FOIA when it comes to revealing his dirty little secrets about the district, but he's sure for them when he can personally gain from that information. I remember a blog post a few months ago about him FOIA-ing other districts.

Many of you are right, the district has a serious issue with transparency. I've worked in the district for several years, and there are many decisions that leave me wondering "Why…what the…?!?" There have been so many times the district has bought stuff that, from my perspective, doesn't need, but then turns around and say we don't have the money (or need) to buy something we do. Or change the way we do things for no apparent reason.

The board and central office administrators really need to take open meetings act training, as well as spend time in the schools, in the classrooms and see what the teachers and staff have to go through. And I don't mean shadowing just the teachers. They need to shadow the aides and the custodians. The head custodian at HMS, among other school staff, knew about & reported the problems BEFORE moldgate, yet their concerns obviously were not heeded. With the aides, the board would learn that it's hard to help their students if they don't have the same technology the kids get, and not being able to find a nice, quiet, somewhat private place to work.

I have this friend who has held various executive positions in various companies, and I really admire him. He's often told me about how he would occasionally go work with all levels of the organization so he could understand how & why they work the way they do. Then, he would go make any appropriate changes. I doubt that he'd be willing to run for the board, but I really wish he would. He'd go well with Garg & Heneghan, asking the the hard questions and pushing the administration to be open and do their work. I seriously doubt he would have let Russell and the others off the hook for tuition reimbursement. If only he, Garg, Heneghan, and Mayer, could've been on the board at the same time, the district would be a whole lot different.

And Ms. Mayer: thank you for being so vocal. It is much appreciated.

Yvonne Mayer said...

Having received no response from the BOE or Dr. White, this morning I sent the following letter to the attorneys for the district. Perhaps they will advise me if the BOE plans to comply with the Attorney General's ruling.

Text of email:

Subject: FW: Illinois Attorney General's Ruling on 2013 PAC 27169
Date: Tue, 17 Jun 2014 09:20:39 -0500

Mr. Boyle and Mr. Petrarca:

I am writing to you in your capacity as legal counsel for the D181 Board of Education and as the attorneys who submitted filings to the Attorney General's office in response to Request for Review 2013 PAC 27169. Below is an email and attachment I emailed Dr. White and the full BOE on Friday, June 13, 2014. I have not received any response from the recipients to my request that they comply with the Attorney General's Ruling and provide me with the verbatim recording of the portion of the October 17, 2013 Executive session that was deemed to be in violation of the Open Meetings Act. I further requested that the audiotape be posted on the D181 website at the link of all of the other audiotapes of the BOE open meetings, since this executive session portion is now considered an open meeting which should never have occurred behind closed doors.

I would appreciate if you would advise me what the District and BOE's response is to these requests.

Thank you.

Yvonne Mayer

cc: Joshua Jones, Assistant Attorney General

The Parents said...

HMS Staff member who posted at 8:08 a.m. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to express your opinions. We hope Dr. White reads your comment and takes it to heart.

Anonymous said...

So disappointed that the BOE hasn't learned anything over the years. Didn't the Armonda BOE have to participate in OMA training after that BOE was also found to have violated the OMA? Aren't there 2 attorneys on the current BOE who should also be able to advise the rest of the "lay" board members when they are crossing the line? Time to school these 7 on OMA compliance and insist that they stop jerking community members around.

The Parents said...

1:09: if CHMS is not represented, which school has double representation?

Anonymous said...

An excerpt of the meeting has been posted via podcast. A couple of points:

1) The BOE should follow the correct procedure when determining the appropriate decision / response path. Ruling out a response because it "sets a precedent" is (i) tail wagging the doggy, (ii) lawyer-centric and, most importantly, (iii) irrelevant to the process. The BOE members may not like the process output, but they are big boys and girls and should do what they were elected to do with some degree of transparency, not bend / break /”interpret” rules to fit their wishes.

2) JV laughing about a Madison teacher striking a child and then rationalizing the teacher's behavior by stating (i) the teacher didn't beat the child, she just slapped him/her and (ii) the child had "behavior issues" is disgusting. You stay classy Vorobiev!

Can we please have a few smart, ethical BOE candidates who have some decency and will do the right thing?