Grayslake Elementary District 46 board members Wednesday night agreed to a cover some legal costs that former colleague Shannon Smigielski says she might incur related to an incident that occurred while she was an elected official.
Smigielski has hired veteran Lake County attorney Charles Smith to pursue a civil order of protection against a substitute teacher who is charged with harassing her in a telephone message during the district's January teachers strike.
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Although Smigielski had asked for up to $2,000 to be sent directly to the lawyer for his bills on her case, board members agreed on a reduced amount at Wednesday's meeting.
Board members voted 4-2 in favor of providing up to $500 to Smigielski's lawyer. Board member Keith Surroz said the $2,000 was too much, but the $500 would be a way to show the community the district will not tolerate threats toward a volunteer public official.
School board President Ray Millington said legal advice to the district stated taxpayers may cover the costs only of an elected official who is sued over actions related to the post. An elected official who initiates legal action isn't entitled to financial help for an attorney from taxpayers.
Millington also said Smigielski's action occurred after she left the board and that she did not alert anyone at the district that she planned to hire an attorney.
Board member Karen Weinert, who voted against the district giving a maximum of $500 to the attorney, said it was not the dollar amount that troubled her. She said she was concerned about going against the advice of District 46 lawyer Kevin Gordon.
"I don't find it represents any huge, slippery slope," Surroz said.
District 46 substitute teacher Christopher Culp, 43, of the 600 block of South Rose Hall Lane in Round Lake, has pleaded not guilty to disorderly conduct/telephone harassment.
Culp is accused of leaving an obscenity-laced message on Smigielski's voice mail about 11:45 p.m. Jan. 19, after the third day of the strike. Smigielski separately pursued the protection order against Culp in Lake County circuit court.
Smigielski resigned her school board seat March 3, in part because of what she said was the emotional distress and fear that resulted from the harassment authorities accuse Culp of committing.
In an email to district officials, she contends the harassment she endured was in her capacity as a District 46 elected official.
Before the meeting, Smith said while the district isn't legally obligated to defray Smigielski's costs in the protection case, it should "do the right thing."
"She didn't ask for this," Smith said.
Smigielski was elected to a 4-year term in 2011 on a platform that included a need for ethical and attentive public servants, fiscal responsibility and transparency.