Open meetings complaint presents challenge in Dist. 41
Two recently elected Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 school board members will face an unusual situation when they take their seats.
Stephanie Clark and Kurt Buchholz asked the attorney general's public access counselor last August to review a potential Open Meetings Act violation by the very board on which they will now serve. And at least one sitting board member is questioning whether it's appropriate for them to participate in closed-door meetings concerning that complaint.
District officials said this week they have not been contacted by the attorney general's office since the original acknowledgment of the complaint. But the attorney general's office said the complaint is still under review.
The case began last August when the district accidentally posted audio of a closed session meeting online during which board members and Superintendent Paul Gordon discussed a conversation they had with Glen Ellyn Park District about potentially using park land for a new school.
Once that audio surfaced, the park district announced it would not be "within the scope" of its mission to sacrifice open space for a school.
In their August complaint, Buchholz and Clark alleged that during the closed session, the district "discussed several items that by law are not to be discussed behind closed doors."
Those items included strategy-related discussion concerning what type of school would be built at possible locations and budget-related issues.
Clark and Buchholz also alleged that during the closed session the board gave direction to Gordon to spend money on plans, but the board did not go into open session to vote on the expenditure.
"We filed the complaint to verify if those things shouldn't have been talked about in closed session with the hopes that maybe the attorney general would just tell the district, 'Hey, look, you guys are not operating properly and change how you're doing things,'" Clark said this week.
But in a response sent to Assistant Attorney General Josh Jones in September, the district's legal counsel said the "allegations are without merit" and the board complied with the Open Meetings Act.
Officials said the board properly went into closed session to discuss the purchase or lease of property. Attorney Brian P. Crowley also wrote that although the board touched on multiple issues during the closed session, they all related to the question of acquiring park properties.
Current board member Patrick Escalante raised concerns this week about whether it's appropriate for Clark and Buchholz to sit in on closed-door sessions involving the complaint.
He said the district already has spent about $6,200 on legal fees involving the case.
But Buchholz and Clark said they have no plans to recuse themselves, unless they're told it's against the law for them to participate.
"We've now been placed by the people in Glen Ellyn to sit on the school board and represent them and we would be representing that interest," Buchholz said.
"As far as we know, there's a three-page letter from the district's attorney responding to this," he said.
"If that's all that's occurred, and we spent $6,200, I can't wait to get on the school board to make sure we're not spending that kind of money with our attorney."