Mt. Zion School Board Reported to Attorney General for Allegedly Violating Open Meetings Act
By EDEN CROTHERS,
On Tuesday, September 15 the Mt. Zion School Board meeting got started at 6:30 pm, 30 minutes earlier than the usual 7:00pm start time. At this month’s meeting, Nathan Patrick, a member of the public spoke regarding concerns about the COVID-19 plan and the lack of open discussion during the August meeting.
During Mr. Patrick’s speech to the board, he brought up the fact the lack of open forum discussion about the COVID-19 plan violated Illinois state law. “I felt that you did not discuss the COVID-19 plan in an open forum according to State law, since the Board returned from Executive Session and then hastily read a prepared statement, voted to approve the plan and adjourned the meeting. I then filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s office due to my belief that this was a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act…”
Section one of the Open Meetings Act states “In order that the people shall be informed, the General Assembly finds and declares that it is the intent of this Act to ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
Mr. Patrick went on to say “I would have liked to have seen and heard this discussed in front of me and all of the other citizens and stakeholders who were present at the August 10 Board meeting. However, you took that right away from us and blatantly violated the law by choosing to go into Executive Session and discuss this without all of us present. You, Board members and top school district administrators are the only people that know exactly what was discussed about the COVID-19 plan during the August 10th meeting.” He also went on to remind the Board members of the oath they took when they assumed their roles.
“The evidence leads me to the conclusion that you discussed things in a private session that were not a private matter. I find it incredibly suspicious that every six months, in February and August, the Board votes to keep Executive Session minutes prior to that date closed and “authorizes the destruction of verbatim tape recordings from the closed session meetings” that are over 18 months old. Yet, the one time a tax paying citizen files a complaint through the Attorney General’s office, there was inexplicably no verbatim recording of the two full hours you spent in closed session. First, an extension request was filed by the school district’s attorney and then a statement was finally made that there as a malfunction with the recorder that records all that you discussed during that meeting.” Mr. Patrick then questioned whether or not the excuse of a broken recording device would be an excuse they would find acceptable if it was coming from a student in the district.
Mr. Patrick finished his statement with the following: “I hope you Board members and administrators hold yourselves to a higher standard that what I feel the taxpayers of this community received from the Attorney General’s investigation regarding your blatant violation of the Open Meetings Act. This also leads me to wonder why this School Board has averaged one hour and 52 minutes for their Executive Session since the beginning of 2019.” “You sit in those seats to represent me, as a tax paying parent, not to just go along with what the administration says to do. I expect you to lead by example. I sincerely hope someone is held responsible for this very convenient “oversight” during the August 2020 Executive Session. Lastly, I am left wondering what was said during closed session that makes it less incriminating to allegedly delete or hide the recording, rather than comply with the Attorney General’s request.”
At the conclusion of the September Board meeting, Dr. Roundcount stated that the School Board will have to be more clear on the meeting agenda for the reasons it was entering closed session. He also stated that the minutes from the last meeting show that the Board were going to discuss negotiations during closed session. He said the Board will attempt to have it more clearly stated on the agenda in the future.
The newspaper reached out the Dr. Roundcount regarding a statement and clarification on the discussion of the alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act. He said “To clarify, on August 10, 2020, the Board discussed mid-term collective bargaining issues in closed session as it related to the impact the COVID plan had on teachers’ working conditions, which is an authorized topic for closed session pursuant to the Illinois Open Meeting Act, 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(2). I can also confirm that the District is fully aware of its obligation to make an audio recording of all closed session discussions, but the recording device the District has used for several years failed to function properly at the August 10th board meeting and the District has procured a new recording device.”
The September school board meeting discussed and approved September 2020 Fund Warrants, August Athletic Imprest Fund Warrants, Financial Treasurer’s August Report, and the FY 2021 Budget Hearing and Adoption. All items were approved 7-0.
The next School Board Meeting will be Tuesday, October 20 at the Mt. Zion School District Offices at 7:00pm. Any changes to meeting date or time will be updated in the briefs section.
If MTZ Region News does just a little digging they will find this is just the tip of the iceberg as it relates to Open Meetings Act violations.
If you have any information you would like to share with the newspaper, I think you should. Editor is very understanding if you wish to remain anonymous.