Parkland legal fees in Harden dispute: $15,223.50

Parkland legal fees in Harden dispute: $15,223.50

CHAMPAIGN — Thirteen people have applied for an opening on the Parkland College board, including three candidates from the board election earlier this year.

The 13 are seeking appointment to replace board member Rochelle Harden of Champaign, who was elected in April but resigned her seat on Sept. 27. Circuit Judge Tom Difanis ruled in August that Harden could not serve both as a board member and a faculty member at Parkland. Harden is an associate professor of English at the community college.

Meanwhile, Parkland disclosed that it spent $15,223.50 in legal fees in its effort to unseat Harden. All of the payments went to the Meyer Capel law firm, of which Parkland attorney Lorna Geiler is a shareholder.

Citing attorney-client privilege, Parkland declined to produce the actual bills for Geiler's services which were sought in a News-Gazette Freedom of Information Act request.

Harden was elected to the Parkland board April 4 in a six-way race.

But about a week after she was elected, Harden said that 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 serving on its board violated state law.

After she took the oath of office Harden said she would abstain from voting on personnel issues as a faculty member, and also would remove herself from the discussion of personnel issues at board executive sessions.

But Difanis ruled against her on Aug. 23, citing a 1983 conflict of interest case, Rogers v. Village of Tinley Park.

Harden had finished third in the six-way race for three six-year slots in April. Board President Dana Trimble received 18,562 votes, Greg Knott was second with 12,653 and Harden had 12,101.

Finishing out of the running were Richard Taylor with 11,159 votes, E.J. Donaghey with 8,220 and Rabel Burdge, who had 5,356.

Both Taylor, of Champaign, and Burdge, of Urbana, are among the 13 applicants for Harden's seat. So is Jonathan Westfield of Savoy, who originally was a candidate for a two-year term on the Parkland board in April but withdrew in February, citing health reasons.

All but one of the 13 applicants — George Johnston of Monticello — are from Champaign County.

The others are Terrell Williams of Urbana, Michael Smith of Mahomet, former Champaign County Board member Scott Tapley of Savoy and six more candidates from Champaign: Tiffany Armas, Jennifer Compton, Dustin Heuerman, Craig McMonigal, Luis Rodriguez and Charles Young.

The six remaining Parkland trustees will individually review the applications to determine which candidates will move forward in the selection process and receive an interview, Parkland spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart said today.

The interviews will be done in open session, said Stuart.

The Parkland board has 60 days from the date of Harden's resignation to appoint a replacement.

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OldIlliniFan wrote on October 11, 2017 at 10:10 am

Fighting this legal issue was worth every penny.  There was a clear conflict of interest that would have set a bad precedent if allowed to go forward.  I sympathize with Ms. Harden's desire to contribute, and she still can, but just can't vote.

IT SEEMS TO ME wrote on October 11, 2017 at 1:10 pm

I would think that Ms. Harden would be liable to pay these legal fees since it was her that challenged the law and she lost.

787 wrote on October 11, 2017 at 2:10 pm

As if Parkland had an extra $15 grand just laying around to spend on this mess.

Thanks, Ms. Harden.   You sure have an odd way of trying to "help".

By wanting to change things, you changed things for the worse.  Now Parkland is $15,000 poorer.  

Congratulations.  Now please stop.

rsp wrote on October 11, 2017 at 2:10 pm

Citing attorney-client privilege, Parkland declined to produce the actual bills for Geiler's services which were sought in a News-Gazette Freedom of Information Act request.

I have no idea where they came to this conclusion. Unless these bills were not paid with by Parkland, they have to release them. It's taxpayer money and we are entitled to the receipts. They are not covered by attorney-client privilege. And if by chance there would be anything on them that should not be disclosed, that's why they make Sharpies.

Do they need a new law firn to better inform them about FOIA? I thought what's her name worked there, was running for that state job that involves enforcing government violation of FOIA laws. How Ironic.

BruckJr wrote on October 11, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Thank you News Gazette for turning up this information.  I would hope that Ms. Harden would volunteer to pay these costs which resulted from her ego trip.

rsp wrote on October 11, 2017 at 11:10 pm

The real problem is the law wasn't written well. It should be fixed.

And for those complaining about the fact of the money. The cost to you personally was miniscule. I seriously doubt you noticed it. She had a legal right to run for office. People had a legal right to vote for her. She won legally. She had a legal right to defend her seat. The court gave her two options. She chose.

At a time when we have very few people making an effort to even vote why are people attacking someone for trying? She got involved. She didn't just sit at home and complain.

And by the way, she did change things for the better. If you stop pointing fingers you might see it.

Kirsten wrote on October 12, 2017 at 1:10 pm

rsp, thank you so much for saying that. Regardless of how one feels about the law, and whether a faculty member should or should not be able to sit on the board, it has always been obvious that Ms. Harden's wish to do so came from a sincere desire to serve the Parkland community. To read various comments here attacking her character and accusing her of attention-seeking and worse has been disheartening. You can blame the costs to Parkland on the officials who crafted the law with such ambiguous wording. 

BruckJr wrote on October 12, 2017 at 2:10 pm

If she wishes to serve the Parkland community I suggest that she apologize and pony up the $15,223.50.

coco wrote on October 12, 2017 at 2:10 pm

I think it's unfortunate that the person who campaigned and won the election will not be seated on the Board of Trustees. Rochelle Harden won the election, handily.

If the law had been better crafted, we wouldn't have had this ambiguity. 

I'm amazed that people think she should pay Parkland back. I'm sure she has plenty of her own expenses.

Thewatcher wrote on October 12, 2017 at 2:10 pm

What needs to happen, then, is craft the law so people in her position aren't eligible to run for that position.  She shouldn't have been able to run in the first place with this looming conflict.  Heck, even the News-Gazette realized this.

BruckJr wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

If the law is ambiguous why hasn't it come into question before?  Parkland has been around for 50 years and had hundreds of board members.  There have been community colleges in Illinois for over 100 years (there are currently 39 of them).  Has there ever been an instance where a faculty member has held a board position at any of them?  I don't know the answer to that but I assume that if there has been then the charge of ambiguity might have some validity.

rsp wrote on October 15, 2017 at 1:10 pm

There was only one other instance of someone trying for a seat and they gave it up. It was questioned then. That's why nothing has been done. It wasn't taken to court. This is the first court case on the issue. Only one other state has had a court case similar. The ambiguity came from no mention of community college board members and teachers in the law. School board members are mentioned, other positions are talked about. It seened obvious they should be included but they weren't listed anywhere. An opinion by the AG stated she could serve but that they could fire her to protect the school. One law required her to be able to vote on all issues, clearly she couldn't fullfill that.

And by the way, Parkland hasn't had hundreds of board members.

Thewatcher wrote on October 12, 2017 at 2:10 pm

What did she change?  I truly do not know.

rsp wrote on October 15, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Dude, do you know how white that board is? Were you aware of that before she ran? What about the financial issues? Do you have any idea how much more focus there is now on the Parkland board? Did you even know there was a Parkland board?

One of the biggest problems out there is the silence. She saw things that needed to be changed and she stood up and took action. People rallied to her cause. Just think if those other people decided to make some noise.

Maybe she will form a group for change within the school, students and faculty, because she has leadership skills and the desire to make changes.

Thewatcher wrote on October 16, 2017 at 12:10 pm

So she got a black person on the board.  What's your point?  That change is just a change for the sake of a change.  And seriously, you think she is how Parkland became aware of financial issues?  Are you that clueless?  The fact is, her being on the board didn't change anything.