UPDATED: Harden troubled by board's decision

UPDATED: Harden troubled by board's decision

CHAMPAIGN — Rochelle Harden says she plans on being sworn in next Wednesday as a member of the Parkland College board of trustees.

Others, though, believe the veteran Parkland faculty member cannot serve both as a paid English professor and as an unpaid board member.

Harden won election to the community college board on April 4, unofficially collecting nearly 12,000 votes from within the 12 counties in the Parkland district. She was elected to a six-year term, replacing the retiring Donna Giertz, also of Champaign.

But last Wednesday, Harden said today, she was called to a meeting at Parkland and told that she could not both serve on the board and remain a faculty member.

“Lorna (Geiler, who serves as the Parkland attorney and the Parkland board attorney) gave me a little booklet and it basically outlined the college’s position and said that these are the reasons why you can’t do both and you have to make a choice. And we’d like to hear from you on Monday by 3.

“So I took that and I went to see a lawyer about it and over the weekend I worked on my response. And yesterday morning at 8 a.m. I sent my response. I haven’t heard back from anyone. And then of course there was the emergency meeting.”

Geiler acknowledged that the meeting took place last week.

But when asked if the other Parkland board members would seek to prevent Harden from being seated, she declined further comment.

"I can't say anything. I'm sorry," said Geiler.

Most of the existing Parkland board, including Giertz, met in an emergency executive session Monday night. No specifics of the reason for the session was given.

Harden said she was troubled by the board’s position that she cannot serve.

“It’s very strange to me because it’s perfectly clear that Parkland doesn’t have the authority to make me choose. I don’t exactly understand where this is all coming from and I’m a little concerned why the current board is trying to keep me from being seated on the board,” Harden said today.

“They have no reason to prevent me from being seated on the board. I find it really shocking that they think they’re above the 11,000 voters who voted for me. They don’t have that power.

“I keep thinking to myself: I work for Parkland. Obviously I care a lot about Parkland. Why am I perceived as a threat? I have no idea. Are they afraid that I’m going to go through the books and demand an independent audit? I really don’t understand this animosity. I’m disheartened a little bit.”

However, the executive director of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, Michael Monaghan, said today that while Harden could serve on the board, "the question is whether she can simultaneously be paid as an employee at the college.

"You cannot serve both as an employee and the boss. She can serve. She has met all of the requirements of being elected to office. She simply cannot do both."

He cited the Public Community College Act, part of which states in Section 3-48 that "no community college member shall be interested, directly or indirectly, in his name or in the name of any other person, association, trust or corporation, in any contract, work, or busness of the district or in the sale of any article, whenever the expense, price, or consideration of the contract, work, business, or sale is paid either from the treasury or by any assessment levied by any statute or ordinance."

Monaghan said "no one is trying to prevent her from being seated on the board. I don't even think it is possible for the Parkland board to prevent her from being seated."

He said he was unaware of whether anyone would file a lawsuit in the case, such as one that would prevent her from being paid as a faculty member.

"This association would not plan to file a lawsuit. I would think it would have to be an interested party within the Parkland district and I don't know who that would be," said Monaghan.

Harden, who is not a lawyer, said her response given Monday challenged Geiler’s assertions.

“I prepared the response. I just went to a lawyer to go through the materials and get his feedback on it and get his point of view. I went ahead and searched the law and put it together and gave it to them (Monday) morning,” Harden said. “It’s in direct response to all of the court cases that Lorna pulled up, and all the reasons why that she gave me. So I just systematically went through all the cases in the law and explained why it doesn’t apply, it doesn’t apply, it doesn’t apply. I’m not a lawyer but let me tell you, I have read that law forward and backward 10 different times.”

Harden said she plans to be seated next Wednesday when the Parkland board holds its organizational meeting.

“I plan to be there, I plan to be seated on the board. I plan, 100 percent, to push for Parkland and push for Parkland’ budget. I absolutely intend to be there,” she said.

And she said she has community support.

“But believe me people have been rallying, telling me that they have my back and that if I need legal fees they’re there. But I’m like, ‘Can we just wait and see what happens?  Can we just wait?’

“I’m getting emails from all over, all kind of people are contacting  me and emailing me. It’s not just Parkland people. It’s former Parkland people, and people I don’t even know if they voted for me. There’s a lot of support and I appreciate that.”

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Thewatcher wrote on April 18, 2017 at 9:04 am

I'm sure she doesn't like their decision or position, but she was warned beforehand there might be legal issues.  Whether those hold true or not, I don't know.  But nobody should be surprised.  Parkland's just wanting to watch out for themselves.

C in Champaign wrote on April 18, 2017 at 9:04 am

Even if she is seated she will likely have to abstain from discussion, and votes on so many relevant items that she will not be an effective member of the board. She will have potential conflicts on any issues that involve faculty, administration, and staff including pay, hiring, termination, tenure, union contract negotiations, discipline, etc... Even many budget discussions would be a potential issue. 

rsp wrote on April 18, 2017 at 9:04 am

You are going way overboard there. You don't understand conflicts of interest.

C in Champaign wrote on April 18, 2017 at 11:04 am

Yes, actually I do understand it. As a member of the faculty of the college, any time an issue that involves hiring, firing, contracts, discipline, tenure, benefits, budgets, etc... the question will have to be asked, is it appropriate for her to participate.

If the Board goes into closed session to discuss a disciplinary matter involving a fellow faculty member, or funding for her department, is there no potential conflict there?

Sure, she could force the issue, and it won't always be a problem, but the question will still have to be asked.

rsp wrote on April 18, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Those questions need to be asked of every board member. As a board member it would be her duty to represent the college, not the students, faculty or herself. Just because the issue is hiring someone doesn't mean it has any connection to her. Same for many of the other things you listed. Yes she would have to recuse herself on some issues. But she also could provide valuable input.

C in Champaign wrote on April 18, 2017 at 11:04 am

Yes, actually I do understand it. As a member of the faculty of the college, any time an issue that involves hiring, firing, contracts, discipline, tenure, benefits, budgets, etc... the question will have to be asked, is it appropriate for her to participate.

If the Board goes into closed session to discuss a disciplinary matter involving a fellow faculty member, or funding for her department, is there no potential conflict there?

Sure, she could force the issue, and it won't always be a problem, but the question will still have to be asked.

bluesky wrote on April 18, 2017 at 9:04 am

Is it really in Parkland's best interests to try and undo the results of an election?  (Of the first minority board member.)  Or to fire yet another faculty member?  If they pay more than lip service to recruiting minority students, they need to consider how this is going to go over in the larger community which they claim to serve. 

Citizen1 wrote on April 18, 2017 at 10:04 am

What?  She is supposed to be excused because she is a minority.  She could not be in both positions and be effective.

dotato123 wrote on April 18, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Why are you so certain she would not be effective? If police officers can serve on their citys' city council, and firemen and women can serve on their city councils, WHAT confilict is she going to have that THEY don't?

bookworm wrote on April 18, 2017 at 10:04 am

C in C is right.  She becomes her boss's boss.  She has a vested interest in her department.  If there's a problem with the dept. head, she can't vote.  If they're discussing personnel issues in administration, she knows which administrators have supported her dept., which are neutral, .....  There are dozens of instances where she can't vote.  Cut funding in the humanities for more science?  Granting tenure to a coworker that she doesn't like personally?  She's just a bystander on most discussions.  

sweet caroline wrote on April 18, 2017 at 11:04 am

She wants to cause a stir so she can be in the headlines.  She knows it's unethical to be both a teacher and a board member.  It's never been done before, and she wants to make a name for herself.  She'll claim discrimination because she's 1) black and 2) a woman.  It doesn't make one bit of sense for a teacher to be on the board that makes decisions about teaching and teachers.

dotato123 wrote on April 18, 2017 at 12:04 pm

How, exactly, is it unethical?

dotato123 wrote on April 18, 2017 at 12:04 pm

What is the big deal? Police and fire can serve on their respective city council in Illinois, so why have a disparity at a different tax-payer supported government? In Illinois, you CAN explicitly be the bosses boss.

She should have no reservation about serving. Unless it's explicitly prohibited, which it is not, then they have zero legal basis to stand on, and ample precendential issues to which they will lose.

 

 

pattsi wrote on April 18, 2017 at 5:04 pm

Well, I can speak to the fact that Fire Protection District trustees can not be a chief or volunteer fire person in the same district. One can be a trustee in one district and a fire chief or fire person in another. County Board chairs make these appointments therefore I am very familiar with these laws. Further, I had to offer a choice to an individual to be either chief or trustee within the same district.

wykhb wrote on April 18, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Putting people in charge of their own budgets, pay, and pension, this is Illinois, what could possibly go wrong?      Is there some reason that a person who wants to basically make decisions which govern others could not have read and known the law BEFORE running for the office?   Does this give you a good feeling that she will read the rules or the law before performing in office and making decisions which affect many?       

dotato123 wrote on April 18, 2017 at 1:04 pm

What law are you referring to? Citation, please?

 

There is no law that bars a public employee from serving on their governing board. There is a law that establishes one must be a resident, not a felon, etc. 

CommonSenseless wrote on April 18, 2017 at 3:04 pm

(110 ILCS 805/3-48) (from Ch. 122, par. 103-48)
Sec. 3-48. No community college board member shall be interested, directly or indirectly, in his own name or in the name of any other person, association, trust or corporation, in any contract, work, or business of the district or in the sale of any article, whenever the expense, price, or consideration of the contract, work, business, or sale is paid either from the treasury or by any assessment levied by any statute or ordinance.

P.S. Hey Saul, I didn't actually write this part ^ either...

Key words: in any "work" or "business" of the district; when the "expense", "price, or "consideration is paid from the treasury... - Commonsenseless

rsp wrote on April 19, 2017 at 2:04 am

What does the rest of that law say? I'll give you a hint: recusal.

It does not mean what you think.

pattsi wrote on April 18, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Here are some conflict of interest resources for Illinois statutes.

https://www.iasb.com/law/COI_FAQ.pdf

http://illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/opinions/index1971topresent.pdf

There is the legal aspects of conflicts of interest and then there are the perceptual ones.

rsp wrote on April 18, 2017 at 5:04 pm

I looked through these trying to find anything relevent. In 1975 there was an Opinion (S-987) which found there had never been a case taken to the Illinois Supreme court regarding this issue, which is still the case. At that time there was one in Wyoming, which the court found incompatible. The Opinion states that there is nothing in the law saying that she can't do this, but it could be incompatible under Illinois law too if it were to go to court. And it also states the college has the option to protect itself by firing her.

Silent_Obs wrote on April 18, 2017 at 1:04 pm

It might be good to consider a few things when looking at this story: *The law surrounding this issue is written very poorly and should have been cleaned up or adjusted years ago if the ICCTA or any other group were concerned about this as an issue. *Just because there is precedent from Illinois fire departments, etc., doesn’t make it a good idea as the design of being your own boss in any capacity is very organizationally flawed. *The continual insinuation that Parkland is somehow financially shady or afraid of an independent audit seems counter to any evidence, as the college is audited annually, publicly posts all their financial information online and has done significantly better than other community colleges in planning for the current crisis. *It might be easier to take Ms. Hardin more seriously if she offered some concrete benefit to why she specifically needs to serve other than “raising awareness” of the Illinois budget issues. From just reading the News-Gazette, it seems like Parkland’s board and pretty much every other non-profit organization has been trying to lobby Springfield. *It is somewhat disconcerting that she didn’t seem all that concerned about these issues until her buddies at the college were impacted. Staff and administrative positions have been let go, incentivized out, and left vacant in large numbers over the past 3 years... but as soon as faculty are impacted for the first time in the college’s history, it seems like the world is ending.

rsp wrote on April 19, 2017 at 2:04 am

You might think it's disconcerting that she wasn't involved prior to this to your knowledge, but the majority of people don't get involved at all. Those who do are either raised in it or get involved after being affected by an issue. And when people don't feel like they are being heard they either go home or take charge. She wants to change things for the better. She has fresh ideas that could make a difference. Things that could save the college money. The prior board wouldn't consider them.

Y-Sub wrote on April 19, 2017 at 6:04 am

The board did consider her proposals.  They were each insufficient and impracticable or in some cases detrimental.  They were considered and discarded because they would have not attained the goal or would have worsened the situation. It is Harden, not the board, who does not understand the ramifications of her proposals. 

CallSaul wrote on April 18, 2017 at 7:04 pm

There can be legitimate discussions about conflict of interest here as well as practical concerns and questions.

But there's also no doubt that some of the usual suspects are all in a tizzy about this just because she's a black woman...

Y-Sub wrote on April 19, 2017 at 7:04 am

The conflict of interest is complete.  There is not a single decision voted on by the BOT that does not affect faculty.  Conversely, no interaction she has with students, other faculty or administration would be untainted by the fact that she is also a Board member.  Examples include student disputes (who can arbitrate objectively when she is her boss’s boss?) and her attending union meetings (at my job I don’t want a board member attending my union meetings, but there would be no legal method for barring this).  That is why a faculty member serving on the board is illegal.

 

No one except Harden and her cronies have considered race as any part of this issue.  Her right to serve on the board is not being challenged.  The fact that she won the election is not in dispute.  And, as far as I know, she is a faculty member in good standing – her right to continue to teach is likewise not in dispute.  It’s the combination of the two that is impractical, unethical and (almost certainly) illegal for anyone, regardless of race.  She must choose in which of the two ways of serving the College she would best serve her community.

rsp wrote on April 19, 2017 at 7:04 am

Not only did our state fail to make it illegal, no court has ever said it was either. Yet. But that doesn't mean they can't fire her. Maybe they should explain it to her in those terms.

And I haven't heard of this being a race (or woman for that matter) issue. Just the fact that she is the first person of color elected to the Parkland board is a little shocking. On the other hand people have stayed on the board for long periods and if there isn't turnover that's to be expected.

wykhb wrote on April 21, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Well thank goodness you flew out of the gutter in time to inject race into the conversation, certainly someone was afraid that aspect would be missed.    Tell me more about closeted racists. 

CallSaul wrote on April 22, 2017 at 9:04 pm

It's wonderful that you sputter on, utterly predictably, with your knee jerk denial that race or gender could possibly be a factor in anyone's motivation.

Just sooper dooper wonderful...

aantulov wrote on April 19, 2017 at 4:04 am

What jobs, investments and other boards do the other current board member hold or are involved with?

Thewatcher wrote on April 19, 2017 at 8:04 am

I'm still not sure why she wants to be on the board so badly.  Is the Illinois budget really the reason?  Does anyone really believe they aren't fully aware of the budget issues in the State, that are therefore affecting Parkland?  I applaud anyone wanting to become involved in their community, but I don't really see what she brings to the table that isn't already there.  It doesn't seem to be in the best interest of Parkland.  As others have said, nobody is challenging her right to be elected or her right to be employed at Parkland.  Doing both though creates a conflict of interest.  That's fact, whether it's legal or not.  The News-Gazette even mentioned that in their opinion and recommendation.  There's nothing wrong with her as a candidate or a person, but the possible conflicts (which the News-Gazette is all too happy to showcase) doesn't make for good business.