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posted: 8/16/2016 5:20 AM

U-46 won't be making controversial meeting recording public

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  • Jeanette Ward

    Jeanette Ward

 
 

Elgin schools officials Monday night refused to make public an audio recording of a closed meeting from two years ago that has been contentious for several months.

The Elgin Area School District U-46 school board voted 4-3 denying the release of the Jan. 25, 2014, closed meeting audio recording. The meeting's purpose was the school board's self evaluation with the help of an Illinois Association of School Boards official, and an evaluation of then-Superintendent Jose Torres, who later resigned in August 2014 to head the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora.

School board member Jeanette Ward fought for the recording's release after initially being denied access to review it herself.

In May, Ward sought and was granted an emergency temporary restraining order by a Kane County judge to stop the board from destroying the recording. She and fellow board members were allowed to listen to the recording in June.

Stemming from the U-46 dispute, a measure giving local elected officials access to records about closed sessions that happened before their tenures was approved by the Illinois House and Senate in the final days of the spring session with no opposition and signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Ward has maintained the meeting violated the state's Open Meetings Act and sought to make it public because the need for confidentiality no longer exists.

"I'd like to see us have this conversation more regularly about other closed-session meeting recordings that we have," Ward said.

Ward and board members Phil Costello and Cody Holt voted in favor of releasing the recording.

"I believe it is an effort to be more transparent and to have good governance," Holt said.

Board member Susan Kerr, who voted against, said it is unfair to publicly release recordings of meetings that former boards expected to remain closed.

District resident Larry Bury asked school board members to be clear about why they were voting for or against releasing the recording. He also asked they direct the administration to compile a list of all costs associated with and staff time and resources spent on the issue, including legal costs.

"There's been a lot of resources expended and enough is enough," Bury said.

Board member Traci O'Neal Ellis agreed the district should account for how much was spent.

"I'd like to know how much in legal fees the district has spent, and staff time, without spending a ridiculous amount of staff time figuring out how much staff time we have spent," she said.

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