What started as a discussion on whether an attorney should be hired to attend meetings turned into friction between some Grayslake Elementary District 46 board members over adherence to the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
The Open Meetings Act was an issue at District 46 in June, when Lake County prosecutors announced they found the board committed violations in October 2010. Authorities said improper closed-door discussions occurred regarding the hiring of a former board member as an independent contractor.
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Shannon Smigielski, who joined the board in 2011, filed the Open Meetings Act complaint with the Lake County state's attorney's office early this year. District 46 was ordered to post transcripts of the previously private talks about ex-board member Michael Linder on its website.
At a meeting Wednesday, the concept of paying an attorney to attend board sessions arose. Some board members said having an attorney attend meetings might help avoid problems that lead to hefty legal bills.
However, board member Karen Weinert questioned the idea, saying most Open Meetings Act violations happen outside of meetings. She then noted a wine-and-beer-tasting fundraiser held by board member Michael Carbone last month in Round Lake Beach.
Carbone is a Republican seeking a Lake County Board seat in the November election. Weinert speculated about a possible violation because Carbone's campaign gathering was attended by Smigielski and District 46 board member Kip Evans.
But Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Janelle Christensen, who specializes in Open Meetings Act issues, said Thursday the officials in question would not be in violation by attending the same event. She said there would need to be proof the threesome clustered together and discussed District 46 business for a violation to be found.
Evans pressed Weinert at the Wednesday meeting about the source of her information. Weinert responded that she viewed online pictures.
"Somebody had sent me a (website) link of a fundraiser that Michael had, and both you and Shannon were there," she said to Evans.
Under state law, only two elected officials from a seven-member school board can discuss with each other public business outside of a meeting. For example, Christensen said, three pairs of board members can spread out in a large room and chat about public business in a social setting.
"Be smart about it," Christensen said of her advice to government boards.
Carbone said he, Smigielski and Evans know the law and never were together discussing District 46 business. Smigielski said she greeted Evans and focused on serving guests and performing other chores at Carbone's fundraiser as a member of his campaign committee.
District 46 board members recently went through an Open Meetings Act training session led by Christensen. In that vein, Smigielski said, she wanted to make sure the law was followed when she and Carbone worked a school board table during District 46's student registration Aug. 7.
Smigielski said she sent an email on July 25 to all board members regarding the registration plan, so no more than two elected officials would be present if District 46 business had to be addressed outside of a meeting. She contended the district was in danger of a violation when Weinert and board member Susan Facklam arrived.
"We are not doing things right," Smigielski told her colleagues. "We didn't do things right (at the registration). A simple Open Meetings Act violation could have taken place again and we had training on it last week. This is ridiculous."