Legal fees top $14,000 for Grayslake District 46 ethics probe
Grayslake Elementary District 46 has been billed more than $14,000 by a retired judge for his investigation of ethics complaints against officials including Superintendent Ellen Correll.
Henry Tonigan III charged the district for 61 hours of work from June 7, 2011, through Feb. 1, 2012. The former Lake County circuit judge was hired in late June 2011 to examine complaints filed by Linwood "Lennie" Jarratt of Round Lake Beach.
Jarratt's accusations centered on emails he received from Freedom of Information Act requests, which he contends showed illegal political activity by some District 46 officials before the April 2011 school board election. State law prohibits public resources from being used for political activities.
Correll was accused of improperly using District 46's taxpayer-funded email system to help Susan Facklam and Mary Garcia get re-elected. Facklam retained her post, but Garcia fell short.
Jarratt said Tuesday he tried to work with district officials regarding his claims in an effort to avoid costs associated with the involvement of an attorney. Jarratt said while the complaints triggered the $14,337 bill from Tonigan, his actions don't conflict with his periodic questioning about district spending.
"They cost themselves the money, honestly," said Jarratt, founder of the Lake County Tea Party.
Correll declined to address Jarratt's accusations against her.
However, she said she's concerned with the cost of Tonigan's investigation and continued legal expenses attributable to a high volume of open-records requests to the district.
"I do understand that the community wants the board and the district to be accountable for their actions," Correll said. "The community also is looking for transparency. I think our district is a test case for transparency. I hope that we can move forward and all learn from the mistakes that have been made."
Tonigan charged $250 an hour for his probe. His itemized invoice totaling $14,337, obtained through a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request, provides a glimpse into his investigation.
Along with reading the emails in question, Tonigan met with Correll and Jarratt separately. Tonigan's interviews with unnamed witnesses at District 46's main office in Grayslake ran nearly 11 hours on Oct. 24 and 25 at a cost of $2,625.
Tonigan has prepared a report that includes findings on Correll and Facklam, according to his bill. Correll said the school board is expected to decide how to react to the report when officials meet Wednesday, April 18.
Correll said she's confident District 46 will get through the most recent investigation and move forward.
"Through all of this, I am afraid we have lost sight of what is most important — our kids," she said. "There are so many new demands on our teachers, administration and staff through the common core (standards), new teacher and principal evaluations. This is not to say that we should not address our mistakes."
Last year, attorney Richard Mittelman charged more than $5,000 to District 46 to investigate other ethics complaints associated with the April 2011 school board election. Board members agreed with Mittelman's recommendation to issue a letter of reprimand to Correll that resulted from one complaint about improper email use.
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