Trustee's lawyer says Parkland board 'wrong on all counts'

Trustee's lawyer says Parkland board 'wrong on all counts'

URBANA — In legal briefs filed Thursday, the attorney for a Parkland College faculty member recently elected to the board of trustees says that the community college board's claim that she should be prohibited from doing both is "wrong on all counts," and that Champaign County Judge Tom Difanis should rule against the board.

Glenn Stanko, the Champaign attorney representing Parkland Associate Professor Rochelle Harden, also noted that if the Parkland board's arguments against her were to be accepted, the result would be to overturn the will of voters in the April 4 election.

"If the board's argument were to be accepted," Stanko wrote, "the end result would be to overturn an election in which Harden received 12,101 votes over a 12-county area, with her employment as a faculty member at Parkland having been publicly disclosed and discussed before the election."

He added that if Harden's election to the board was overturned, she would not automatically be replaced by the next-place finisher in the election (Richard Taylor) but by someone chosen by the board.

"Elections are not lightly overturned by courts, however, unless there is a failure to comply with a mandatory condition of election law or unless there is fraud or some adverse effect on the election," Stanko wrote. "Fortunately, a correct interpretation of the relevant statutes and law in this case will not serve to negate the results of the Parkland trustee election."

Harden, a Parkland faculty instructor since 2001 who lives in Champaign, was one of three candidates elected to six-year terms on the college's board two months ago. She won over three other contenders.

But a day after she was sworn in as a trustee in late April, the remaining members of the board filed for a declaratory judgment, asserting that her employment by Parkland while simultaneously serving on its board violates the state Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act and the Public Community College Act.

In briefs filed May 30, Lorna Geiler, the attorney for the Parkland board, wrote that Harden "would be called upon to vote on matters concerning the collective bargaining agreement between the board of trustees and the Parkland Academic Employees," and that and other matters "create conflicts and incompatibilities that cannot be avoided via abstention.

"Accordingly, under Illinois law, it is clear that defendant cannot maintain her employment by the college while simultaneously serving as a member of the Parkland College Board of Trustees."

Geiler wrote that the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act and the Public Community College Act prohibit Harden's service in both positions.

But Stanko argued that the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act does not apply to community college board members and that the Public Community College Act does not prohibit Harden from serving on the board while she is employed at Parkland under a collective bargaining agreement.

He claimed the PCCA "only prohibits community college board members from having an interest in contracts with third-party vendors."

Stanko also said that Geiler's claim "that the common-law doctrine of 'incompatibility of offices' bars Harden's service" on the board while she is a faculty member is wrong because the doctrine applies to a person who holds two public offices.

In an affidavit accompanying Stanko's arguments, Harden again said that she would "avoid any conflict of interest on matters arising out of or relating to the current (collective bargaining agreement) or futures ones."

She pledged to publicly disclose her interest as a Parkland faculty member "whenever such matters arise," refrain from participating in such matters, recuse herself from any discussion of such matters in meetings of the Parkland board, abstain from votes on such matters, withdraw from closed sessions where they are discussed and, "if I deem it to be necessary and appropriate, withdrawing from and not participating in those portions of open meetings of the Parkland board involving any such matters, so that I am not part of the quorum when any vote is taken."

Harden also said she "cannot afford to give up my employment as a faculty member," for which she is scheduled to be paid $70,607 in the upcoming academic year.

She added, "If it is determined by the court in this case that I cannot serve on the Parkland board while I am employed as a tenured faculty member under the current CBA or under future collective bargaining agreements between the Parkland board and the (Parkland Academic Employees' Organization), then I will have no choice but to resign my position as a trustee of the Parkland board."

Sections (2):News, Local

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

787 wrote on June 09, 2017 at 7:06 am

And when is Judge Difanis expected to rule on this mess, that Harden willingly created?

No mention of it at all in the story.  It is not ususual to read a story from the News-Gazette, and be left with questions.

How about we include in the story that "Judge Difanis is expected to make a ruling (WHEN)"

rsp wrote on June 09, 2017 at 9:06 am

How about we include in the story that "Judge Difanis is expected to make a ruling (WHEN)"

When he decides to. He's the judge.

CommonSenseless wrote on June 09, 2017 at 8:06 am

Mr. Stanko sounds like an idiot...playing up this "will of the people" nonsense. She can still be a board member, but a ruling in their favor gives the college cover to fire Harden as a professor. Then she can be a board member all day long. Of course, the college was trying to be nice, giving Harden the choice and all.

rsp wrote on June 09, 2017 at 9:06 am

She has tenure so they can't just fire her. And it's not just nonsense. We vote so we can have a say in how things are done. We also have a constitution and laws that give rules that government officials have to play by. Like how to replace a board member, the duty of a member to vote on all issues, etc.

If she was just recusing herself from an occasional vote or topic, it wouldn't be a big deal but she needs to recuse herself from a substantial portion of their work. In effect she wouldn't be representing the district despite her passion.

Earl wrote on June 09, 2017 at 10:06 am

Thank you for your comments on democracy, RSP.  It seems that in the era of Trump many Americans just want to be ruled by "bosses" or "CEOs."

Actually though, if you have ever been to a Trustees meeting (community college or otherwise) you would know that there is very little that she would have to recuse herself from. The contract is one vote, in other words--one small part of just one of 12 meetings a year, and often the contracts are multi-year, so that doesn't even come up. Prof Harden would add valuable input to every meeting--

Thewatcher wrote on June 09, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Earl, what is this valuable input you mention?  I'm sure she's a nice lady, and I don't question her character.  But through all of this I haven't seen anything that makes me believe she has a lot of insight or valuable ideas that would help the board.  The only thing I seem to remember her mentioning during the campaign was wanting to address the State budget issues.  Everyone around here is aware of the issues. Parkland especially.  As I've said before, other than her simple desire, there doesn't seem to be a convincing argument that she should stay on the board. 

Kirsten wrote on June 09, 2017 at 12:06 pm

How about the fact that she successfully won election to the seat? She feels that she can bring valuable perspective to the board as a faculty member and as an African American, and apparently many voters felt that way too.

Thewatcher wrote on June 09, 2017 at 3:06 pm

As the Presidential election has proven, winning an election doesn't mean you're of value to the elected seat. She may have won the election, but do we really think it's because of her valuable perspective or insight she can provide?

Whatever the outcome, maybe this case will provide the precedent for any future issues like it.  The confusion and debate over the current law is what allowed this mess to start.  Hopefully it becomes clear after this.

Earl wrote on June 09, 2017 at 2:06 pm

 

She can vote on a majority of agenda items that call for votes, which I think mainly consist of contract bids for construction, renovation, and services. She can also provide valuable insight into the challenges of Parkland students, and from that perspective can better comment and question committee reports, expenditures, etc. At trustees meetings I have been to in the past, at various institutions, there has been a lot of gladhanding, backslapping, and rubberstamping. Her one vote won't change that, but I think she will be an informed voice that will at least provide a dialogue.

 

 

 

Y-Sub wrote on June 09, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Earl,

What issues voted on by the board do not, in your view, affect faculty?  Should she be able to vote on employment issues for Administration (her "bosses" in one role and her "subordinates" in another)?  How about spending on infrastructure?  If she percieves spending on that to joepardize her next raise, does this not present a conflict of interest for her?  To my mind literally every vote the BOT makes would present a conflict of interest for Harden.  The conflict of interest presented by this situation is complete.  This is one reason, but not the only one, why these two positions are "incompatible" and cannot reasonably be held by the same person.

Earl wrote on June 09, 2017 at 2:06 pm

YSub...I think you fundamentally misunderstand the board's work. She can vote on all issues that affect faculty, but she is voluntarily recusing herself from personnel issues in case she knows the personnel being discussed. The only voting she is prohibited by the law is on her contract, which rolls around once every 2-5 years. On all other faculty issues, her persective is not just permitted, it is necessary. Unless we want a faculty-free college, perhaps.

Thewatcher wrote on June 09, 2017 at 3:06 pm

All other faculty issues still affect her, because she IS faculty.  Whether anyone wants to recognize it or not, her perspective would always be bias when it came to faculty issues.  Talking about a faculty-free college doesn't make sense.

Y-Sub wrote on June 09, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Earl,

...and I think you fundamentally misunderstand the role of faculty at the College.  The faculty do have a voice in the College - through the PCA, PAE negotiations, Faculty Forums and many other channels of communication.  But Faculty voting on issues before the board is a clear conflict of interest in every case.

Do faculty want BOT members to tell them what content to include in their syllabus or how to develop their curriculum?  No.  That is not the BOTs job.  Similarly, it is not for faculty (who are not in a position to impartially consider the best interest of the College as a whole) to vote on board-level issues.  They, including Harden, will always be inappropriately influenced by factors that affect their specific area.

And the problems with this dual role extend far beyond these conflicts of interest.  Consider the "hypothetical" in which the board/faculty member behaves inappropriately (e.g. breaks college policy or treats students unfairly).  Who has the authority to discipline them?  No one.  Any supervisor's role would be compromised by the fact that they would be disciplining someone who votes on their employment and raises.  The incompatibility of the two positions is complete, pervasive and impracticable.  This is a BAD idea and, if the judge looking at the case decides to let it stand, the College's ability to serve its students will be materially harmed.

Again, no one is saying Harden can't serve on the BOT.  She was elected and has won that right.  Conversely, no one is saying she cannot continue as a faculty member - as far as I'm aware she's a faculty member in good standing.  It's the combination of the two, simultaneously, that presents a problem and is likely illegal (for good reason).  We'll see what the judge says.

honeydont1984 wrote on June 09, 2017 at 12:06 pm

O.K. Stumpy let's start again you can:

A. Be a board member but NOT a teacher or.

B. You can be a teacher but NOT a board member.

Hello you'll notice there are NO, as in zero, board members at the U of I that are currently teachers because it is a CONFLICT OF INTEREST.

Geez for a teacher, supposedly in English, evidently she has a reading problem. The rules are clear as day and no lawyer can change that. 

The reasons are obvious you would be voting and /or considering options, policies, etc., that could affect your position as a teacher and other teachers. What she doesn't get that? 

BruckJr wrote on June 09, 2017 at 3:06 pm

How much has this fiasco cost the taxpayers so far?

logicalpositivist wrote on June 10, 2017 at 5:06 pm

What’s going through her mind?

“I’m Rochelle Harden. I care deeply about the quality of education at Parkland College. I am concerned about the State budget and lack of funding. I am somehow more enlightened on budget issues than anyone else. I will be so valuable in addressing the budget issues, that I am willing to have Parkland spend money it could better use elsewhere (for student scholarships, academic programs, student services, hiring new faculty) just to make them prove in court that I am not as valuable as I believe I am.

Oh, and I’m the first African-American on the board. I’m a legend in my own mind “

This little charade is all about her. It’s to get her name in the press all under the illusion that she is doing this for the public good or some smokescreen of altruism. She knew full well that it was going to be a big snafu (if she didn't, then she must now). She’s relishing every ounce of ink and every pixel which references her and this foolish waste of money by the institution she supposedly loves. This is self-promotion at its finest, all at the expense of Parkland, students, and taxpayers.

billbtri5 wrote on June 13, 2017 at 9:06 am

..election results would not be overturned, but Parkland would have to dismiss her, which is what they're trying to avoid...