D161 Board Members Argue Legality of Sept. 17 Special Meeting
The board recesses Wednesday's meeting to let the district's attorney consult over whether the state's Open Meetings Act was violated. The meeting will resume Friday, Sept. 30.
Wednesday's Summit Hill District 161 Board meeting was the first in years to be held away from district headquarters, taking the show on the road to Summit Hill Junior High School. The main agenda items included touring the junior high's fitness center, honoring the girls softball team, approving the 2011-12 budget and discuss district Illinois Standards Achievement Test scores.
All that was overshadowed, however, by a contentious debate over the legality of a special board meeting held earlier this month, a debate that eventually forced the board to recess Wednesday's meeting so that the district's lawyer could be consulted on the matter. The meeting will resume at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30.
Concerns over a Sept. 17 special meeting came up during public comments when several audience members criticized a letter to the editor by board member Sean William Doyle that was published in Wednesday's Southtown Star. In his letter, Doyle said he raised concerns to board members that the meeting wasn't being recorded so that the public could listen to it on the district's website, which is board policy so long as the meeting isn't about confidential personnel or student matters. He said his request to record the meeting, which created an assistant superintendent position for the district, was initially denied, but that board members eventually decided to have the meeting recorded.
"Podcasting meetings was instituted by the school board in 2008 to insure transparency and accountability," he wrote. "Sadly, in this case the board fell short of that."
In responding to the public comments, Doyle said he thought the Sept. 17 meeting violated the state's Open Meetings Act because the agenda was posted less than 48 hours in advance. According to a screenshot of the PDF posting provided by Doyle to Patch, the agenda was published online at 11:34 a.m. Sept. 15, and the meeting was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Sept. 17. Doyle also said district policy was violated because he was informed of the meeting less than 48 hours before it.
Board President Mary Kenny asked Doyle to table this discussion until next meeting so that the district's attorney could be present to advise the board on the matter. But Doyle did not relent, saying he wanted to go on the record at this meeting. Eventually, the debate turned into a shouting match between board members.
"This is not getting us anywhere. ... You're trying to embarrass the board, not help the board," said Board Secretary Denise Lenz, adding that Doyle's time could be better spent helping the district instead of quibbling over a four-minute discrepancy.
Discussion ended, and the board went into a scheduled closed session that lasted almost an hour and a half. When they returned, board member George Perros made a motion to recess until Friday.
After Wednesday's meeting, Doyle said he rejects the characterization that he is splitting hairs on this issue. He also cited another example of a special meeting agenda not being posted for at least 48 hours beforehand. According to a screenshot of the PDF for a July 7 special meeting, the agenda was not posted on the district's website until 7:34 a.m. on July 6.
"I'm surprised that anyone calling not following the law nit-picking," he said. "That's not nit-picking in my world. That should be expected of any school district."
Doyle said he hopes the board's lawyer will be able to provide some clarity to the situation. If the attorney finds the Sept. 17 violated state law, any actions taken at it would be nullified, meaning the board would need to hold another meeting to create the assistant superintendent position.