Updated: March 24, 9:15 a.m.
Forty-five minutes after the Board of Education unanimously voted to rescind the January censure of board member Dave Weeks, it once again voted to censure him for allegedly “violating the confidentiality of closed session.”
The 6-1 vote came Monday night after a lengthy—and at time heated—debate about the allegations against Weeks, as well as the timeline and process used by the board for voting on the censure. Weeks cast the sole opposing vote.
“They didn’t even have the courtesy to adjust some of the inaccuracies. They just approved it verbatim, without any change,” Weeks said after the meeting.
Weeks said he will talk to his attorney about whether or not any further steps will be taken. Attorney Shawn Collins sent the school district’s attorney a letter in February questioning the legal basis for the Jan. 24 censure and alleging the board violated the Open Meetings Act by voting on an item that was not on that meeting’s agenda.
Collins said it also appears the Act was violated because the censure motion was “drafted, discussed and resolved” outside of an open meeting and without board member Weeks’ participation.
“What I wanted was the public to be involved in it. That was the most important thing for me,” Weeks said. “If my attorney thinks this is egregious maybe something else will happen. It was never about getting into court.”
Board President said it is “just false” that the board decided anything outside the Open Meetings Act, and challenged anyone to prove otherwise.
According to the letter from Collins, the board did not have the legal authority to censure Weeks, as the Illinois Attorney General determined in 1991 that public bodies do not have the authority to sanction members for talking publicly about discussions and actions is closed sessions.
“Sanction, at least in my mind, requires some kind of penalty,” Jaensch said. “There is no penalty. This is just an expression of the board, that we felt a board member had violated our policies and we felt the public needed to know.”
Jaensch said given the fact that a violation concerned a personnel issue, there was some risk of liability against the board.
Weeks said in a conversation he had with the principal of one of the three schools he is assigned to as a board member, a personnel matter came up. A colleague of the principal was leaving the district at the end of the year, which Weeks knew about because of discussion in closed session, he said.
“I believe I should not have allowed the discussion to touch upon this employee, and I certainly should not have weighed in on anything to do with it because of the nature of the information,” Weeks said. “It was completely innocent.”
Jaensch said he found out about the discussion on the Thursday before the Jan. 24 meeting, and then notified Weeks the next day, Friday. Jaensch said he spoke with the principal Monday afternoon.
“At that point I made the decision to go ahead and propose the censure to the board,” Jaensch said. “It was very quick. Ironically the previous time a board member made a motion without it being on the agenda was Mr. Weeks in November.”
It was later that evening, at the Jan. 24 board meeting, that Weeks was censured for “his pattern of violating the confidentiality of closed session by sharing discussions, information and deliberations that all participants understood were to be confidential.”
The censure cited “past indiscretions of admitted leaking of information about contract negotiations and pending real estate matters along with discussion of personnel matters.”
Weeks said he thought that going into the Jan. 24 meeting the censure would deal with just the personnel matter and would accept it, and “felt completely ambushed, completely deceived” and “lied to” when the motion was read. He said he never admitted leaking discussions regarding contract negotiations.
“During contract negotiations, you were not happy with the way the discussion was going, you were not happy that the majority of the board did not agree with your strategic views on how long the contract should be,” Jaensch said. “You had a meeting at your house, you urged people to contact us to try to change our mind to your mind. To me that’s discussing contract negotiations out of executive session.”
Weeks said he “did not discuss a thing that was privileged in that meeting.” Jaensch said the information is privileged because there is strategy involved.
“If you’re going to tell me that discussing with taxpayers in this district what they would like to see in a contract with their teachers that they pay for, and if you’re going to tell me that’s inappropriate, I don’t buy it. And I don’t think this community is going to buy it,” Weeks said.
Regarding the pending real estate matter, Weeks said he spoke to a city council member about a zoning question because the district was looking for property for a bus barn.
“I wasn’t down at telling everyone, ‘hey, you want to hear the latest?’” Weeks said. “If a non-interested party read your censure statement, they would not believe all of this happened in the process of me trying to do my job as a board member.”
Because of the discussion of the real estate matter, an offer “was withdrawn by the party that was considering offering it to us,” Jaensch said.
About 40 minutes into the discussion, board member Susan Crotty asked the board to vote on the matter.
“At our last meeting when we talked about this, you said ‘I deserve this, this is where we should go, I’m sorry, let’s move on,’” Crotty said to Weeks. “We have business of the district to take care of more than egos and feelings. And I would just like to be able to move forward, if possible.”
Several board members chastised Weeks for discussing closed session information. Vice President Jackie Romberg said in July the board talked at length about the “sanctity of executive session.”
“We sat through three hours of a board review that talked about nothing but the sanctity of closed session,” Romberg said. “...We don’t take it lightly."
Board member said the board votes to enter closed session at each meeting. By doing so the board agrees “what will be discussed in closed session will remain confidential,” she said.
During public comment, two residents spoke about the censure issue. Resident Wayne Cummings said the board broke the law by censuring Weeks and by voting on item that was not properly placed on the agenda.
Resident Bob Swininoga said reading the reports of the matter raises concerns that need to be resolved.
“If laws were broken, file charges. Otherwise, apologize and move on,” Swininoga said. “Just please end the circus. We’re pretty much all tired of it.”
In other news:
- The board approved a contract with Construction Solutions of Illinois in the amount of $196,723 for renovations at , and a contract with ZCorp. Services in the amount of $636,000 for . Funding for the renovations, which will enhance security at the schools, comes from the operation and maintenance fund.
- The board approved the final bid package for the renovations at . Among the items included in the $1,029,816 bid package are the re-roofing and sheet metal of roofs in the old three story building, replacement of the fieldhouse floor and the refinishing and lining of the wood floors in main and auxiliary gym. The funding will come from the construction budget.
- Funds from the construction budget will also pay for the renovation work at and elementary schools. The work at each school will move the main office and create a more secure entrance for visitors. The bid amount for the contractors at Ranch View is $846,987, with the total estimated cost of the project about $1.4 million. At Prairie, the bid amount is $951,389, and the total estimated project cost is about $1.5 million. The board voted 6-1 to approve the bids. Weeks cast the sole opposing vote, saying he was not comfortable with the process used to bring the bids to the board. Weeks questioned the process of posting minutes from the subcomittee meetings. The district's attorney said that there was nothing in state law indicating when minutes must be approved. The only thing the open meetings law requires is that minutes be posted for the public seven days after a public body approves them.
- High School course fees were approved for next year. The majority of the fees stay the same, with some increases in book costs, subscriptions and supplementary materials. A full list of the fees for next year can be found in the board documents for Monday’s meeting.