MAHOMET — A complaint about alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act by the Mahomet-Seymour school board, filed by one of the board’s newest members, alleges that just after the April election, the board discussed in closed session how to “circumvent the power” of incoming members.
Ken Keefe’s filing with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office also alleges that Superintendent Lindsey Hall asked the school board in April to evaluate her job performance “before the newly elected board members are seated.”
The attorney general’s office told the district in a letter last week that it was declining to pursue action regarding the alleged violations but did offer “advice and education with respect to the interpretation and implementation” of the act.
On Wednesday, Hall said she had no comment on items discussed in closed session.
“I concur with the statement that was read by (board) President (Max) McComb in the board meeting on Aug. 19 addressing the situation,” she said. “The board is committed to working together to continue to address the issues that have already been addressed.
“(I’m) hoping that seven board members can commit to cooperation and moving ahead,” Hall added.
Among the issues discussed were a complaint by one of the new members accusing the board of multiple violations of the Open Meetings Act and that same board member being accused by community members of 'unethical' actions related to the PTO's annual Dawg Walk fundraiser.
McComb’s statement said the board needs to improve cooperation.
“I think this is a good opportunity for the board to focus on working together, on openness, and on the transparency that was talked about so much in the election,” he stated. “We are committed to being transparent and accountable to our stakeholders.
“I’m mostly concerned about this board working together and moving ahead so that the district can continue its excellence,” he said in the statement.
On Wednesday, McComb said, “I’m not going to comment on closed-session discussions,” but added that “no one on any past or current board has ever knowingly or intentionally tried to violate the Open Meetings Act.”
Keefe, elected April 2 and seated April 30, along with two other new members — Meghan Hennesy and Colleen Schultz — detailed in his June 17 complaint information he had gleaned from closed-session recordings he reviewed after joining the board.
Among the alleged numerous violations between April 17, 2017, and April 15, 2019, that Keefe made in his complaint:
— That the minutes of more than 40 closed sessions over the two-year period violate the act “because they include a brief list of items discussed, but do not include a summary of the discussion.”
“For example, the closed session meeting on April 16, 2018, was 116 minutes long and the summary of discussion in the approved minutes is 3 words long,” Keefe wrote. “Another closed session meeting on December 17, 2018, was 77 minutes long and the summary of discussion in the board-approved minutes is a single word, ‘Personnel.’”
— That required verbatim recordings of closed sessions from at least 10 occasions are missing or partially missing.
— That on at least eight occasions the board discussed topics in closed session that were not announced in the motion to close discussion.
— That at least nine closed sessions included topics that should be covered in open session and are not allowed exceptions to the act.
Detailing one of those alleged instances at the Feb. 5, 2018, meeting, Keefe wrote that “a board member mentions that they are really talking about district goal planning even though the closed-session topic is goals for the superintendent. This is a clear attempt to work around” the act.
Regarding another closed session on April 10, 2019, he wrote that “the superintendent asks the board to quickly fill out an evaluation form for her performance so that she can be evaluated by the current board before the newly elected board members are seated. This entire discussion is not covered by” an exemption to the act.
In another closed session a week later, he said “the board then discusses the schedule for when the board will evaluate the superintendent again and why the evaluation is happening in April when it should happen in October. This discussion is not the actual evaluation, but planning the timing for when the board will do its evaluation. The discussion moves on to how newly elected board members will participate in future evaluations, what the purpose of the evaluation is, and strategies for how to circumvent the power of the new board members.”
Throughout his complaint, Keefe suggests remedies for each allegation, such as requesting that state officials “educate” the board as to its duties under the act. He also suggests that some closed-session recordings on topics not covered by the act be made public.
In the statement he read at Monday’s meeting, McComb said new members’ concerns about the board’s actions were addressed at its May 20 meeting.
“After that time and moving ahead, these issues were and have been addressed, and the board is committed to making improvements that are needed,” he said.
The letter from the attorney general’s office, Keefe’s complaint and McComb’s response are posted at the district’s website.