Jul 28, 2014
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D161 Board Runs Afoul of State's Open Meetings Act Again

A workshop to discuss Summit Hill school district programming was adjourned Monday after a parent pointed out the special meeting broke state law by being held on a holiday.

D161 Board Runs Afoul of State's Open Meetings Act Again

After weeks of tense debates over the budget cuts facing , Monday's board workshop was a chance to move discussion toward education and curriculum and away from finances and controversy.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

For the second time in three consecutive meetings and the third time this school year, the D161 board was challenged over whether it violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act. In this case, a district parent pointed out that the workshop was being held on a legal holiday--Casimir Pulaski Day--which is against state law.

The result: Monday's workshop was immediately adjourned by the board after Supt. Barb Rains talked to the district's lawyer. It is unknown if the workshop will be rescheduled, and if so, when that would be.

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Labeled a workshop, Monday's forum is considered a special public meeting and falls under the provisions of the Open Meetings Act. According to the state law, a public meeting can't be scheduled on a legal holiday. The only exception is if a board's regular meeting day coincides with a holiday.

There have been two other instances this school year when the board's adherence to the Open Meetings act has been questioned:

  • In September, , the minimum time allowed by state law. The district's attorney, however, .

  • Last month, , claiming the agenda item from the original meeting that contained the closure vote was too vague. That item was labeled "Planning for the Future" under old business on the meeting agenda.

In a phone interview Monday night, Rich Marron, the Tinley Park resident with three children in the district who brought up this violation during public comments, said the board's recent issues with the Open Meetings Act prompted him to look into the legality of the workshop after he heard about it last week. He said he didn't finish his research until Monday, which is why he didn't notify Rains or any board members earlier.

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"The community has been very clear that it wants more transparency," said Marron, adding that Rains thanked him after the meeting for bringing the possible violation to the board's attention. "It's a pattern that keeps coming up. When you put something on the agenda that says planning for the future and you close a school, you have to wonder what else could happen going forward."

Marron also said he thinks the board holds too many special meetings to discuss important topics that would be better handled during the regular board meetings. The added assemblies each month aren't just an unfair burden to parents who want to attend to stay informed, but also to board members, he said. Since July, there have been seven special meetings or workshops held, only one more than was held during the same period last school year.

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Going forward, Marron said he wants to see how the board polices itself in the face of these possible infractions. During his public remarks, Marron said board President Mary Kenny had violated her oath of office to uphold state laws by allowing this meeting to be scheduled on a holiday.

"I would just hate to see the board ignore these violations," he said.

Patch will continue to update this story throughout the day.

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