Parkland's Harden has choice to make (w/video)

Parkland's Harden has choice to make (w/video)

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URBANA — Parkland College Board member Rochelle Harden will have to decide between remaining on the board or continuing as an associate professor of English at the Champaign community college, Circuit Judge Tom Difanis ruled Wednesday.

She cannot do both, he said.

Harden, the first African-American on the Parkland board in its 50-year history, indicated that unless she decides to appeal the ruling, she likely would quit the board and continue as a faculty member.

"Believe me, if I could afford to quit my job and serve — because people voted for me and I really want to honor that — but I need my job," she said following a 50-minute hearing at the Champaign County Courthouse.

If Harden leaves the board, it would create a vacancy that would have to be filled by remaining members of the Parkland board — by whatever means they opt — within 90 days, said Parkland President Tom Ramage.

Among the options is to appoint Richard Taylor of Champaign, who finished fourth in the six-way race last April in which Harden was elected.

"The college welcomes today's ruling by Judge Difanis, which has not only resolved this matter for Parkland, but set legal precedent for preventing individuals with inherent conflicts of interest from serving on community college and other local governmental boards across the state," Parkland spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart said in a statement released shortly after the ruling. "Parkland will confirm with Ms. Harden our understanding that she will be retaining her paid position as a member of the Parkland faculty, which will create a vacancy on the Board of Trustees."

The statement thanked Harden for her service as a board member, adding it "looks forward to continued collaboration with her as a faculty member. We recognize and celebrate the historical significance of her election as the first African-American woman to serve on Parkland's Board of Trustees. We are hopeful this has opened the door for other individuals from underrepresented groups to serve in the future."

Harden said Wednesday that she already has spent as much as $30,000 on the legal case, a sum that could increase if she appeals. She is being paid $70,607 this academic year at Parkland.

"I am trading my financial future for this endeavor," said Harden, who said she took out a second mortgage on her Champaign home to cover the legal expenses. "The truth of the matter is, no matter what I'm going through, the eight people who lost their jobs, they've had it much, much worse. The students who can't go to Parkland because the tuition keeps going up and up and up, they've got it much worse."

Harden, an associate professor of English, had earlier said she decided to run for the Parkland board in part to rehire eight faculty members whose contracts were not renewed last year.

She also said that she is carrying a teaching load of six three-hour courses this semester in order to raise enough money to meet her legal costs.

"Because I do believe in Parkland and I believe it's important. And even though I've only been on the board for a little while, I'm already making a huge impact. Being a faculty member on the board and making sure to voice opinions about important things, I think, is extremely important," Harden said. "I think overall, if you value education and particularly value higher education, you should value the opinions of your teachers and the people who work at Parkland."

In the April 4 election, Harden finished third in a six-way race for three six-year slots on the Parkland board, garnering 12.101 votes within Parkland's 12-county district.

But about a week after she was elected, Harden said Parkland's attorney, Lorna Geiler, told her she could not both serve on the board and be a faculty member. And a day after she was sworn in as a trustee, the remaining members of the Parkland board filed for a declaratory judgment, asserting that her employment by Parkland while simultaneously serving on its board violated state law.

Harden said Wednesday she was "disheartened" by that action, which came during what the board called an emergency meeting.

"That their immediate thought was, let's get rid of her, let's fire her. Not let's work with here," she said.

Twice during Wednesday's hearing, Geiler told Difanis that the Parkland board's legal challenge to Harden wasn't personal.

"It's not personal, please understand it's not personal. It's the position," she said.

"We are here today to answer essentially this question: Can Ms. Harden be both a trustee and an employee of Parkland Community College?" Geiler told Difanis. "Phrased a different way with the same circumstances: Can Ms. Harden be both the boss or supervisor, and be an employee who supervises?"

Difanis said he was basing his ruling on a 1983 Illinois case, Rogers v. Village of Tinley Park, in which a police officer was elected to the village board of the community that employed him.

The Appellate Court ruled against the officer in that case, saying that "incompatibility existed between offices of elected village trustee and police officer for the same village ... arising out of decision-making responsibility of the board of trustees with respect to police department matters."

The Rogers ruling said that the officer would face many conflicts of interest, including collective bargaining agreements, establishing operating budgets and tax levies, determining salaries and fringe benefits for all village employees, and the authority to remove superiors.

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787 wrote on August 23, 2017 at 6:08 pm

She spent $30,000 on this case, only to get this far?   Wow.   That's stunning right there.

BruckJr wrote on August 23, 2017 at 7:08 pm

and what did it cost the taxpayer?

787 wrote on August 23, 2017 at 10:08 pm

One thing is for sure... Harden doesn't care about that part of it.  That's always someone else's money.

Alex Goodlad wrote on August 24, 2017 at 8:08 am

Someone else's money, eh? She worked hard to be a teacher, and you're saying that her money is someone else's money?

787 wrote on August 24, 2017 at 10:08 am

No.  We were discussing the cost to the taxpayer... not to her.

Having sufficient comprehension when reading, is a wonderful thing.

Alex Goodlad wrote on October 28, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Oh I read what you said correctly. The disgusting point was that Rochelle Harden's was such a burden to the taxpayer.

I know your question is rhetorical, but let me answer it anyway. There are about 116,000 employed people in the Champaign-Urbana workforce. Let's say for the sake of argument that only 70,000 of them pay taxes. We're talking about something on the order of magnitude of 1 dollar per person.

Was that $1 really make it or break it for you??? You sad little man??? Your rhetoric makes no mathematical sense and is PLAYED OUT. Go bitch about the top .1% They're WAAAYYY more of a financial burden to the taxpayer than friggen Harden's trial.

Objective Reporter wrote on August 24, 2017 at 2:08 pm

Why is that for sure?

787 wrote on August 24, 2017 at 9:08 pm

Hardin mentions the 8 people who lost their jobs (money)... the increase in tuition to students (money)...

But didn't Parkland have legal costs to figure out this mess that Harden created (which also cost MONEY?)

She laments these decisions that had to be made by the Parkland Board because of money... but then creates an issue that cost Parkland even more money.

Please lady, stop.  You're not helping.  You're making it WORSE.   You'd do Parkland a favor by resigning BOTH positions.

rsp wrote on August 23, 2017 at 8:08 pm

That just seems high for her legal expenses. Hopefully some people that supported her decision will help out with that expense.

Thewatcher wrote on August 24, 2017 at 8:08 am

How sad for her, she wasted so much time and money trying to get on a board she really didn't need to be on in the first place.

Elisany wrote on August 24, 2017 at 10:08 am

Yeah, I call bull excrement. There is no way her legal fees alone cost her that much. This is part of her usual martyr routine.

cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on August 24, 2017 at 10:08 am

Here is her go fund me page.

https://www.gofundme.com/hardenlegalfund

 

The NG was all over how much the Chinese students go fund me page had raised and where the money went, maybe we should ask Trustee Harden the same questions.

Innocent_Primate wrote on August 24, 2017 at 11:08 am

I must confess I’m a little puzzled by the underlying rationale of the appellate court opinion relied upon by the circuit court (although I assume the circuit court felt bound by such decision). Before you reach and address the issue of incompatibility of offices, the issue of whether a position constitutes a “public office” must be addressed and decided. If a position doesn’t constitute a “public office”, the doctrine of incompatibility, common law or otherwise, is, it seems to me, inapplicable. Is a teacher in a public school system now a “public office” ? I always imagined a teacher was a public employee. What about a school custodian ? A school bus driver ? A cafeteria worker ? And yes, litigation is expensive these days. For example, if we're talking about an expansion of the doctrine, how much time and money would it take to research whether such doctrine has been expanded to encompass teachers in any other state ?

CommonSenseless wrote on August 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Just as a police officer is not a publice office...you are focusing your question on the wrong end.  Being a publicly elected board member was the public office part = "the mayor"; whereas being a teacher = Police officer.  

Innocent_Primate wrote on August 24, 2017 at 1:08 pm

But as I understand it, the doctrine is incompatibility of "offices", which necessitates two public offices, doesn't it ? Don't you have to decide at the outset that two public offices are involved ?

pattsi wrote on August 24, 2017 at 1:08 pm

Think of it this way--my public office continues as a CB member and I am the county administrator. So as a CB member, I vote on the budget, vote on personnel and purchasing policy and any county policy, vote on county positions, etc. And al of these as county administrator, I am responsible for--I put together the budget, I write the county policies, I reorganize the county staff, i hire the county staff, etc. So the conflict becomes that I get to vote on everything I bring forward to the CB for final approval. Major conflicts. Basically, I would have to recuse myself on each vote so the board would be minus one functioning member.

CommonSenseless wrote on August 24, 2017 at 1:08 pm

The Rogers v Tinley appeal further explains:

"The doctrine of incompatibility is succinctly stated in People v. Haas (1908), 145 Ill.App. 283, 286-87:

Incompatibility * * * is present when the written law of a state specifically prohibits the occupant of either one of the offices in question from holding the other and, also, where the duties of either office are such that the holder of the office cannot in every instance, properly and fully, faithfully perform all the duties of the other office. This incompatibility may arise from multiplicity of business in the one office or the other, considerations of public policy or otherwise. "

 

Because Hardin has to recuse herself for many items of normal work, she is by definition incompatible.  

 

CommonSenseless wrote on August 24, 2017 at 2:08 pm

And here's one about teachers and school boards

 

In Haskins v. State ex rel. Harrington (Wyo. 1973), 516 P.2d 1171, 1173-74, the court held that the common law incompatibility rule prohibiting a school teacher from serving as a school board member of the district where he was employed did not violate the teacher's first amendment rights.

rsp wrote on August 25, 2017 at 11:08 pm

That's a different state so it doesn't apply. It's not a higher court decision.

Objective Reporter wrote on August 24, 2017 at 2:08 pm

removed

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Kathleen wrote on August 28, 2017 at 2:08 pm

court