The Elgin Area School District U-46 school board voted unanimously Monday night to release a recording of a closed-session meeting from more than two years ago to which one board member earlier had been denied access.
School board member Jeanette Ward believes the meeting may have violated the state's Open Meetings Act. The recording was of a Jan. 25, 2014, meeting in which the board conducted a self evaluation with the help of an Illinois Association of School Boards official, and an evaluation of then-Superintendent Jose Torres, who resigned in August 2014 to head the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora.
Ward had been trying to gain access to closed-session recordings since she came on the board in May 2015. It led to the school board creating a policy for when a board member can hear old closed-session recordings. Per the policy, the entire board must vote at an open meeting to approve a request, if the items discussed during closed session are "germane" to the board's current business.
Last month, Ward sought and was granted an emergency temporary restraining order by a Kane County judge to stop the board from destroying the recording for the Jan. 25, 2014 meeting.
The vote Monday was taken in light of legislators approving a measure that would allow all elected officials to have access to available closed-session meeting minutes and verbatim recordings from before their time on the board for review, regardless of whether those minutes or verbatim recordings are confidential. House Bill 4630, sponsored by state Rep. Jeannie Ives, awaits the governor's signature to become law.
Since then, other U-46 school board members have requested to listen to the recording.
"Access to closed-session recordings ought to be the right of all duly elected board members," Ward said. "This is a victory for transparency and that is the only principal that should win the day."
School board member Traci O'Neal Ellis said she believes she is being targeted for comments she made during that closed meeting.
"It's a red herring. It is a distraction. It is disingenuous to say that I have something to hide because I have voted not to listen to this tape," said Ellis, before voting in favor of its release.
Ellis said she fears revealing things said in a confidential meeting where board members were critiquing each other and the board's operation will stifle openness at future board self evaluations. Only three members of that former board remain, she added.
"Board self evaluation is the one time a year that a board is allowed to air its dirty laundry, discuss interpersonal relationships, dynamics, function, how well or poorly we are performing," she said. "If that is now up for debate it will have a chilling effect on people's participation in there."
The board will set a future meeting where members can listen to the recording together.