District 214 reviewing ethics complaint against former administrator

Bourbon and barbecue weren't on the agenda at Thursday night's Northwest Suburban High School District 214 board meeting, but they could be soon.

A Wheeling mother filed an ethics complaint with the board accusing a former administrator of violating district policies by accepting an all-expense-paid trip to Kentucky from an HVAC vendor and soliciting two other vendors for cash to stage an end-of-year staff lunch.

"It appears that you lack the necessary staff training or commitment to ethics ... which I find disheartening," Amy Osterman told the board Thursday after detailing her findings through a public records request.

Osterman said the district had sent her copies of emails and schedules from former Director of Operations Jerry Cook that outlined a two-day trip to Kentucky in April of this year paid for by an HVAC vendor that had done more than $1 million worth of work in the district between 2018 and 2022, and had signed a $2.8 million deal for additional work in the district in March.

Cook, now principal at East Aurora High School, did not return calls seeking comment.

Osterman also noted an email Cook sent to representatives from an architecture firm and construction company in April soliciting $1,500 each to stage "a BBQ event for our staff in the administrative building."

"Of course, your teams are welcome to come over to participate, and I'll have signage made up thanking you for your support," Cook wrote. "I'm looking for early next month to host this, which means our new superintendent should be on board and hopefully available to meet you."

District 214 financial records show the construction company had been paid more than $28.6 million by the district since 2018. The architecture firm had received $2.3 million over the past five years.

"As these allegations were made last night, the school district has not had an opportunity to look into the specifics of this matter," District 214 spokeswoman Stephanie Kim stated in an email Friday. "It is doing so now. When the school district completes its review, it will be in a position to determine whether and what specific actions may be necessary."

District officials noted the barbecue lunch did not take place.

"Once a senior member of the administration was made aware of what was happening, it was not allowed to occur," Kim wrote.

Emails received by Osterman indicate Cook and another district employee did take the trip to Kentucky, though.

Cook described the trip as "really just a tour of the manufacturing site and an update on our units," in his emails.

However, an itinerary issued by the vendor indicates the plant tour took two hours, where they also had lunch. Then the employees were taken to Bulleit Distillery in Shelbyville for a "tour, tasting & dinner."

The next day, the pair were taken to a horse-racing track in Lexington for four hours before hopping on a flight back to Chicago, according to the itinerary.

District policy bans gifts from "prohibited sources," which includes vendors.

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