No controversy at Harden's swearing-in as first black Parkland trustee

No controversy at Harden's swearing-in as first black Parkland trustee

CHAMPAIGN — Without fanfare or controversy, Rochelle Harden made history Wednesday night when she was sworn in as the first black person on the Parkland College Board of Trustees in its 50 years — and the first board member who also is an active faculty member.

Harden, a Champaign resident who is an associate professor of English, was administered the oath of office at Wednesday's board meeting along with recently re-elected board members Dana Trimble, Greg Knott and Bianca Green.

Although Parkland's attorney and the executive director of the state's community college trustees association both say that Harden has a conflict of interest, cannot serve as both a faculty member and a trustee, and could face prosecution for a Class 4 felony, there was no mention of the controversy Wednesday night.

"After the back and forth (in emails between Harden and Parkland attorney Lorna Geiler), there's been no conversation. I haven't heard anything from the board. I haven't heard anything from the president. I haven't heard anything," Harden said. "They've sort of left it there, and that's the end of it."

Harden said she has heard nothing about a lawsuit challenging her service on the board.

"It seems that they've sort of dropped it and let it be," she said. "I don't really expect a specific legal challenge."

Asked what issues she would abstain from voting on, Harden said, "Personnel issues, definitely. Obviously, I want to avoid any improprieties there."

That would also apply, she said, to personnel discussions in closed sessions of the board.

"I will remove myself from that conversation because I think it's really important that there isn't even the hint of impropriety, that there is no indication whatsoever that I have any sort of undue influence," she said. "A lot of these people are my friends. A lot of these people are my colleagues, too, so I think I will remove myself from any conversation where we are discussing somebody's hiring or somebody being let go or resignation or anything like that. Absolutely remove myself from that conversation, not just abstaining from the vote, but remove myself."

Harden said it's possible — as former trustee Donna Giertz told The News-Gazette — that she might have to abstain from votes at every meeting.

"That is a possibility, and if that's the case, I'll continue to do that," she said. "If it happens at every single meeting, we'll do it at every single meeting. Will it dilute my impact on the board? Not at all."

Harden said that being the first black person to serve on the Parkland board "is a huge deal to me."

"My students are primarily African-American, low income. I'm telling them all the time, 'Please keep pushing.' It's toward the end of the semester, and their grades are not doing so good," she said. "I keep telling them, 'Keep at it, stay with it.' It's important for me to be able to say to them that it was not an easy fight for me. It was not easy, but I did have a lot of support, and that's what made the real difference for me.

"I now feel like it's really important, especially to African-Americans who say, 'Oh, the system is rigged against me.' No, it is not, and you can fight through it, and you can make it."

In the Parkland election results certified by Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten, the three winners in the race for six-year terms were Trimble with 18,562 votes, Knott with 12,653 and Harden with 12,101. Out of the running were Richard Taylor, who got 11,159; Eugene John Donaghey, with 8,220; and Rabel Burdge, 5,356.

In the race for a two-year term, Green had 9,479 votes to 7,403 for Kathleen Robbins, 5,274 for John Barry Howell and 3,230 for Becky Densmore.

Former Parkland trustee Giertz: Harden can't stay on faculty

CHAMPAIGN — Former Parkland College board member Donna Giertz said she told her board colleagues last week that she believes that her replacement, Rochelle Harden, shouldn't be allowed to continue as a faculty member.

Harden, an associate professor of English, was elected to the Parkland board on April 4.

"She can't be a boss. She can't be her own boss," said Giertz, a Champaign resident whose 12 years on the Parkland board ended Wednesday. "My suggestion was that when she is sworn in, she is no longer an employee of Parkland. You cannot do both.

"She has a choice. She can be a faculty member and get paid, or she can be on the board and not get a dime. That was my suggestion, that if she is sworn in right then and there, her employment with the college ends. She would no longer be paid by Parkland College."

Giertz said she made the suggestion during an executive session of the Parkland board last week. She declined to say whether other board members agreed.

"It was my suggestion that that's what we should do. We're going to be sued anyway, so we might as well just start off the bat and not mess around. If we let her serve, you're just going to be kicking the can down the road. It would be immediately done."

Giertz, a former Parkland professor who retired from the faculty before being elected to the board, predicted that presence on the board would create ongoing problems.

"At every board meeting, there's going to be controversy if they let her stay on the board," Giertz said. "I've learned over the years that you act immediately. You don't say, 'Well ....' You say 'no' immediately."

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C in Champaign wrote on April 27, 2017 at 5:04 pm

With regard to her impact being reduced because of conflicts of interest:  "If it happens at every single meeting, we'll do it at every single meeting. Will it dilute my impact on the board? Not at all."

Really? What if the vote, that might otherwise have been cast by a member who did not have a conflict, was a tie breaking vote? Every time she is forced to abstain from a vote, or recuse herself from a discussion, her impact is diminished. To think, or say otherwise is simply rationalization.

billbtri5 wrote on April 27, 2017 at 3:04 pm

...yes, just ignore the Law and 100 plus years of propriety ....

billbtri5 wrote on April 27, 2017 at 3:04 pm

...yes, just ignore the Law and 100 plus years of propriety ....

borderbelle wrote on April 27, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Ok....if you are not going to be able to vote on agenda items at every meeting why are you even there ?  What good does it do if an elected person cannot  fullfill the obligations of the position ?   Are you just trying to make a point ?   Sounds like you are just trying to stir the pot.