Board's handling of administrator hiring questioned : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Board's handling of administrator hiring questioned|
|Name of new school district finance chief initially withheld after vote |
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
Oswego resident Katra Knornschild is not happy with the treatment she received from the Oswego School District Board at a special meeting held on Friday evening, April 20.
Knornschild attended the meeting which was listed as a closed meeting under provisions of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
"But I attended because the agenda had an action item listed-Employment Contract for Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance. I wanted to find out who it was," she said.
The person hired by the board was Paul O'Malley.
She said the board voted after coming out of closed session, to approve a contract to hire the new assistant superintendent of finance, but refused to give his name, saying he had not notified his employer he would be taking a new job.
"I asked him (Walsh) three times for the name and he said their attorney said they did not have to give the name because he had not notified his previous employer he was taking another job," she said.
Robyn Vickers, another school district resident who arrived at the meeting after Knornschild, said she also heard Walsh decline to release O'Malley's name.
"That's true," Walsh said. "We didn't have our director of communications (Kristine Liptrot) there and we wanted to issue a press release first."
Liptrot subsequently helped write and edit a press release announcing O'Malley's hiring that was issued by the district the following Monday.
"We did validate it with our lawyer that we did not have to disclose it (O'Malley's name), at that time. We were respectful of Mr. O'Malley and his district and his board and his team to allow him the opportunity to let them know that Monday morning-which is very appropriate," he said.
Walsh said O'Malley knew his contract was on the agenda for the Friday meeting, and added, "But why would you tell your boss you're quitting before you had confirmation that you had another job offer? Would you do that or would anybody do that? Probably not."
Walsh said he asked legal counsel if they were required to release the name of the person they hired Friday night. He said he was told that they were not required to release the name even though it was in the contract that had been approved by board vote at that time.
"That was voted on Friday night and Monday night he was there (at the regular board meeting), and was introduced to the staff and everybody at the same time. And that was the appropriate thing to do," Walsh said.
When asked why they did not delay action until the Monday night meeting when the name could be released, with O'Malley present, Walsh said, "We voted on giving the board president and the secretary of the board, permission to execute a contract. That's what we voted on and that's what happened. That contract had his name in it," Walsh said.
When asked whether the opinion was given by Whitt Law of Aurora, or Robbin Schwartz, Nicholas Lifton & Taylor of Chicago, the district's two law firms, Walsh said, "No. It was one of our other attorneys."
He said they consulted Karl R. Ottosen of Ottosen-Britz, Kelly Cooper Gilbert & DiNolfo of Naperville to find out if they could withhold the name and was told yes.
The board voted 6-1 the following Monday night to hire this firm as the district's third law firm (see related story on this page).
Walsh said they were within their rights to hire a firm not already working for the district to handle the situation. He noted that a previous board had hired a different firm once when the district's law firm did not get things done on time.
Walsh said he did not consult either of their present two law firms for an opinion on the question. He said he was confident either of them could have done so.
"They could have done the same thing-they could have given an opinion. And they were not too busy to do so," he said.
When asked why he went to Ottosen he said, "Because myself and the board-that's the vote that we chose."
He said Ottosen will charge them for the opinion. "You'll see the bill come through on an agenda," Walsh said.
Knornschild said she also asked Walsh about minutes and why there was no video or audio recording from the past five special meetings on the district's website.
The meetings were held at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 14; 7 p.m. Monday April 16; 7 p.m. Thursday, April 19; 7 p.m. Friday April 20; and 10:30 a.m. Saturday April 21.
All except the Monday, April 16 meeting were held at the District Administration Center at 4175 Rt. 71, Oswego. The April 16 meeting was held in the Community Room at Oswego East High School, 4125 Harvey Road, Oswego.
Meetings are usually video and audio recorded by the district's IT (Information Technology) Department and placed on the district's website.
However, the IT Department was not at any of these special meetings and Kimberly Salzbrunn, the board secretary, said she was told she did not have to attend any of the meetings.
Salzbrunn said she was told by Walsh that minutes were taken at the meetings and that they would be presented to her soon so they could be posted on the website.
"I'm assuming I'm going to get them this week or next. They'll be put together and put on an agenda to be approved before the open parts are posted," she said.
Walsh confirmed this saying, "I'm hoping to have them ready for the May 7 agenda so I must have them to Kimberly by Friday," he said.
"As far as the recordings go there was a recording device they were supposed to use (a digital recorder)," she said, noting that she supplied them with the recorder.
"But it doesn't appear they used it properly, so none of the recordings worked. I have little snippets of weird sound bites, but not a full recording," she said.
She said the district uses the digital recorder for closed meetings so they can burn the recordings to CDs that are kept as records of the meetings.
According to state statutes all public bodies must keep written minutes of all their meetings whether open or closed and a verbatim record of all their closed meetings in the form of an audio or video recording.
The minutes must include but need not be limited to the date, time and place of the meeting, the members of the public body recorded as either present or absent and whether the members were physically present or present by means of video\or audio conference, and a summary of discussion on all matters deliberated or decided and a record of any votes taken.