Summit Hill School District 161 Board of Education member Sean William Doyle stated at a board meeting on Oct. 24 that vice president Joy Murphy was in contact with the board attorney on 14 separate occasions between July 2011 and June 2012, none of which were in compliance with board policy.
However, in a follow-up interview with Murphy, who was not in attendance at last Wednesday’s board meeting, the vice president said her contact with the board attorney occurred when she was temporarily performing the duties of board president Mary Kenny.
According to Murphy, Kenny was on medical leave during Spring 2012 and out of town several times through out the year. In each of these instances, Murphy took on the role of board president in Kenny’s absence.
The Board Policy Manual states the following in reference to district representative contact with the board attorney:
“The Superintendent, his or her designee, and Board President are each authorized to confer with and/or seek the legal advice of the Board Attorney.”
The policy manual also states that:
“The Vice President performs the duties of the president if … 2. The President is absent; or 3. The President is unable to perform the office’s duties.”
During a follow-up interview with Patch, Doyle stated that in some instances, Murphy and Kenny spoke with the board attorney together.
Kenny, in a follow-up interview, noted the importance of considering context and circumstances when evaluating Murphy’s contact with the attorney, specifically citing instances where the attorney contacted Murphy or situations where the board was required to consult with the attorney within a limited timeframe.
Doyle also said at Wednesday’s board meeting that the district paid $72,578.86 in legal fees between July 2011 and June 2012, approximately 40 percent of which was spent revisiting a concluded teacher investigation.
The district budgeted $80,000 for legal fees during the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
“We’re not attorneys,” said Murphy. “The legal firm guides us.”
Murphy also questioned the accuracy of the 39 percent figure used by Doyle to quantify the amount spent by the district on the teacher investigation, and stated that the district was partially reimbursed for the fees. She also said that the teacher investigation Doyle mentioned, which occurred when Doyle was board president in March 2011, was never concluded, nor was it addressed properly.
When asked for a response to Murphy’s statement, Doyle reiterated his original stance that the investigation was concluded at the time the board attorney became involved.
According to Doyle, the investigation was completed and resolved by district administration, and then later reopened at the request of several board members, when Doyle was no longer president. Doyle said that the board voted on whether or not to reopen the investigation during a special meeting on June 1, 2011. His was the sole vote against reopening the investigation.
By Doyle’s count, the reopened investigation comprised 126.22 attorney billable hours. The total billable hours the district was charged for during the 2011-2012 fiscal year came to 325.97, according to Doyle.
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