Warren District 121 board member apologizes for saying don't hire gay leader
Warren Township High School District 121 board member Liz Biondi said she apologizes "to everyone I offended" by stating she doesn't want to hire someone who is gay to replace retiring Superintendent Mary Perry Bates, but she said she has no immediate plans to resign.
Biondi issued her apology in a statement and during an interview Thursday with the Daily Herald.
At a special meeting Dec. 2, Biondi said she'd be concerned if Warren's next superintendent were gay. A gay schools chief may wind up fighting "more personal fires than superintendent fires," she said.
She spoke while board members listed their criteria for the next superintendent of Gurnee-based District 121. Joining board members at the meeting were representatives of School Exec Connect of Highland Park, which is leading the search to replace Bates before the 2015-16 academic year.
Biondi said she raised the issue in general terms on behalf of a District 121 resident she didn't identify, and that her comments were taken out of context. She said she apologizes "to everyone I offended by my question" at last week's session.
"It was never my intention that this be a part of hiring questions or guidelines, nor should a person's sexual orientation ever be part of that," Biondi said.
Biondi said she plans to attend Tuesday's Warren school board meeting. When asked if she intends to resign, Biondi said: "Not at this time."
Meanwhile, Illinois State Board of Elections officials say there is no mechanism to remove a school board member for making controversial comments. Warren officials said they have been looking into what could be done about Biondi.
District 121 board President John Anderson and Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik are among those who have denounced Biondi's comments.
Under the Illinois Constitution, voters may recall only governors midterm. Moreover, Ken Menzel, a top attorney with the state board of elections, said Thursday that Warren can't take the route Buffalo Grove did to recall trustee Lisa Stone in 2010.
After the Buffalo Grove village board passed a recall ordinance, residents filed a petition seeking Stone's ouster early in her 4-year term in November 2010. Voters overwhelmingly sent Stone packing after 18 months in office -- a tenure that included an acrimonious relationship with other trustees and some administrators.
In the Buffalo Grove case with Stone, Menzel said, the constitution can be interpreted to allow some towns to adopt their own recall provisions, but the idea hasn't been tested in the courts. School districts don't have similar powers, Menzel said, so Gurnee-area voters won't have a chance to recall Biondi.
Anderson said if state law doesn't provide a way to remove Biondi or she doesn't resign, the elected officials will proceed as best they can with her aboard.
"Obviously, I would hope that she would leave, but I don't think she will," he said.
Kovarik said Biondi is supposed to represent the best interests of District 121 residents as a board member. Kovarik said she was particularly bothered Biondi said the Gurnee community would not want a gay superintendent.
"It's not a reflection on our community, our values and how we feel about things," Kovarik said.
In her apology, Biondi said she has gay and lesbian family members, including her sister.
"I love my family, am proud of all their accomplishments and am proud to support the LGBT community, including my sister," she said. "I would never intentionally do anything to harm someone."
Under the 2006 Illinois Human Rights Act, it's unlawful to discriminate against someone in employment matters on the basis of sexual orientation. Biondi said she's familiar with the law.