Parkland professor, trustee doesn't plan to give up either role

Parkland professor, trustee doesn't plan to give up either role

CHAMPAIGN — Rochelle Harden says she plans on being sworn in April 26 as a member of the Parkland College Board of Trustees.

And it appears she will be: The official agenda for the meeting says that Harden will be among the four trustees who will be administered the oath of office.

What happens after that, though, is anyone's guess.

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

But last Wednesday, Harden said, 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."

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

Geiler acknowledged that the meeting took place last week at Parkland. But she had no other comment.

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 Tuesday.

"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 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."

'Simply cannot do both'

But Michael Monaghan, the executive director of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, said 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."

Monaghan 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 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."

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."

And 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.

None had been filed in Champaign County as of Tuesday afternoon.

"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," Monaghan said.

'Can we just wait?'

Harden, who is not a lawyer, said her written response to the Parkland board 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, who will become the first African-American Parkland board member in its 50 years, 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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rsp wrote on April 19, 2017 at 10:04 am

"It's very strange to me because it's perfectly clear that Parkland doesn't have the authority to make me choose."

Yes they do. In fact they can fire you if you don't choose. It's not wrongful termination either. It's protecting the college. There is an Opinion on it from the Illinois Attorney General's Office. Courts generally agree with the AG. Just because the law is a mess and unclear doesn't mean we get what we want.

By the way, Section 3-48 goes on to say that if a member has an interest in any of those things they must recuse themselves and not vote on those items. It does not say they cannot serve. One really must read the whole act, not just a line or two out of context.

This is the second time he has quoted a section of law that doesn't apply. Just stick with incompatibility. Illinois has incompatibility laws on the books, even though they didn't spell it out in this case.

CommonSenseless wrote on April 19, 2017 at 3:04 pm

It also gives dollar limits and percentage ownership limits. one really must read the whole act...

EdRyan wrote on April 19, 2017 at 12:04 pm

It will be interesting to hear what the courts have to say as this saga works to that inevitable conclusion.

C in Champaign wrote on April 19, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Here is an interesting summary/list of legal opinions, in Illinois, where compatibility for office is concerned. It would appear that, in most cases, people who work, or with for an entity are incompatible with regard to service on elected boards, councils, etc... that they are employed by, or who derive their living from association with. For example: the Circuit Clerk of a county is incompatible with being a member of the County Board, a Deputy Sheriff is  incompatible with service on the County Board, and a Fire Chief is incompatible with serving as a Fire Protection District Trustee. Also, a city Police Chief is Incompatible with the office of Mayor, but is compatible with service as a county board member as he is employed by the city, not the county.

C in Champaign wrote on April 19, 2017 at 12:04 pm

With apologies, for some reason the link won't post... if you google the following: "illinois compatibility of offices" the first return is a link to an Index of opinions on the compatibility of office.

CommonSenseless wrote on April 19, 2017 at 3:04 pm