The leader of a Chicago-based government transparency organization says a conflict of interest exists for a Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board member representing the panel in teacher contract talks.
The organization says there's a conflict because the teachers union bought campaign signs for board member Anna Klimkowicz and two other candidates in last year's school board election.
While Klimkowicz and the two other winning candidates were cleared of wrongdoing by the State Board of Elections, her presence in the negotiating room creates a new opportunity for a conflict of interest, said Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
"It's just objectively a fact that there's a financial tie there," Brune said.
Brune's organization, currently chaired by former state Sen. Susan Garrett, describes itself as a nonpartisan public interest group that addresses the role of money in politics and encourages integrity, accountability and transparency in government.
Though allegations of campaign violations were dismissed against Klimkowicz and fellow board members Robert LeFevre Jr. and Ed Yung, Northwest Teachers Union Local 1211 was directed to provide proper attribution of campaign funding sources in the future or face a fine of up to $5,000.
Hoffman Estates resident Mark Cramer filed the complaint with the elections board, alleging that the signs didn't identify who paid for them.
At the time, teachers union President John Braglia said the union bought the signs for Klimkowicz, LeFevre and Yung but denied Cramer's implication that it represented an endorsement.
In addition to hosting a forum for all six candidates in the race, the union made it clear that it would provide campaign assistance any of them wanted, Braglia said. Only Klimkowicz, LeFevre and Yung accepted the offer, he said.
This is the first time District 211 has had a board member in the negotiating room for a teachers contract, though the board's attorney remains the head of the bargaining team, board President Mucia Burke said.
Burke said she does not see a conflict of interest in Klimkowicz's role.
"It's not one person who represents the board. It's the team," Burke said. "No single board member speaks for the board or represents the board."
The decision to have a board member in the negotiating room was seen as a further way to ensure that the general will of the board was being enacted, Burke said.
Klimkowicz became the choice for several reasons, Burke said. She is the longest-serving member of the board, she has advocated for board representation in the negotiating room, she has served as the board's representative to the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization, and she has been willing to make herself available for the eight- to nine-month negotiating period.
Klimkowicz said her role is to observe, support the direction that the board has given the superintendent and provide updates to other board members.
"Also, I have always been very open and honest about our financial process and expenses, and believe I can support the will of the board, especially during caucus times with the administration," she said.
The teachers' current three-year contract will expire June 30. District officials previously said they expect negotiations would continue into the spring.
The board will meet in closed session to discuss the progress of contract negotiations at 6:30 p.m. today at the administration building in Palatine.