UPDATED: Parkland asks court to rule on Harden

UPDATED: Parkland asks court to rule on Harden

URBANA — Parkland College has filed for a declaratory judgment in Champaign County Circuit Court as to whether newly elected board member Rochelle Harden is able to both be employed at the college and to serve on the college's board of trustees.

Parkland attorney Lorna Geiler filed a petition for the judicial determination Thursday. Harden has 30 days to respond.

Presiding Judge Tom Difanis said today that he would handle the case.

Harden, a tenured associate professor of English at the school, was elected to a six-year term on the board on April 4 and was sworn in as a board member Wednesday night.

Geiler, however, has asserted that Harden's employment by Parkland while also serving as a member of the Parkland Board of Trustees violates the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act and the Public Community College Act.

"Illinois law prohibits an individual from being employed by the same public community college for which she also serves as a member of the board of trustees," Geiler wrote.

"Specifically, an individual's employment by the same community college for which she also serves as a member of the board of trustees would create conflicts of interest, and would constitute direct violations of Illinois statutes, which cannot be avoided by waiver or abstention," she continued.

Harden said earlier this week, after she took the oath of office, that she would abstain from voting on personnel issues, and also would remove herself from the discussion of personnel issues at board executive sessions.

"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," Harden said Wednesday. "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."

Included in the petition for a declaratory judgment is an April 12 letter to Harden, from Geiler, in which the attorney notes that violation of he Public Community College Act is a class 4 felony.

"Under no circumstances can Parkland College put an employee in a position were doing their job at the College subjects them to criminal liability," she wrote. "Therefore, you have two alternatives. I think you can decline to serve as a Trustee or you can terminate your employment with Parkland."

Meanwhile, the Parkland board and administration issued a statement this afternoon:

"There are questions on both sides as to the legality of this situation and it is imperative that Parkland seeks appropriate guidance in order to proceed in a matter consistent with the law.

"It should be noted that this is not an effort to contest the results of the April election, remove Ms. Harden from office, or pursue action against her as an individual. On the contrary, we believe that pursuing a legally binding determination is the best way to serve District 505 in this situation. "Parkland is anxious to move forward with direction on this issue from the court. A legal resolution in this matter is welcome and in the best interest of all parties."






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cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on April 28, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Trustee Harden has assured everyone that she stands on solid legal ground.   Lets see how the courts react.