Open Meetings Act violation means Dist. 214 board must revote on severance package
Northwest Suburban High School District 214's school board violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act when it failed to disclose it was voting on a $183,274 severance agreement with a former assistant superintendent, Attorney General Kwame Raoul said.
As such, the Arlington Heights-based school board is required to revote the severance agreement for former chief school business official Cathy Johnson, with a sufficiently detailed agenda item at a properly noticed open meeting, according to a binding 17-page written opinion issued by Raoul on Monday.
For future personnel matters, Raoul also directed the board to identify the general type of employee and general type of personnel transaction on meeting agendas.
Raoul's decision cites Daily Herald reporting on Johnson's mysterious departure and severance payment that came to light months later, in December, adding that "the relevant facts were not evident to the public or press" when the agreement with Johnson was voted on at the Sept. 15, 2022, board meeting.
Board President Bill Dussling said the panel will comply with the decision and revote at its next meeting, April 13.
"We were acting and we acted really in conformance with our long-standing practices, and certainly while we do not agree with the decision, we will review those practices in light of the decision," Dussling said.
The 14-page resignation agreement between District 214 and its longtime associate superintendent for finance and operations was discussed by the board in closed session at the Sept. 15 meeting, then voted on in open session as "Personnel Transaction Report II."
An attorney for the school board argued in a written response to Raoul's office that the board recited its vote at the meeting, which was also being livestreamed, and that a recording and meeting minutes were later posted to the district's website. A precise description of the personnel transaction could have been requested through the Freedom of Information Act, the attorney wrote.
As the Daily Herald reported in December and as referenced by Raoul, District 214 board members in recent months started not to specifically announce the personnel items they were voting on after closed session, and meeting minutes released sometimes a month later didn't provide further description -- a change from past practice.
"A member of the public who read the board's September 15, 2022, meeting agenda would have had no indication that the board would vote on a severance agreement with a high-level administrator such as an assistant superintendent," the attorney general wrote. "The final action was significant and plainly distinguishable from the more routine personnel transactions that the board approved earlier in the meeting."
Raoul wrote the board violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to provide "sufficient advance notice" of the severance agreement vote.
The complaint against the District 214 board was brought by Tim Burns, an Elk Grove High School parent, former Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 board member, and Elk Grove Village library board trustee.
Dussling on Wednesday declined to comment on the circumstances of Johnson's departure, citing legal reasons and the confidentiality clause in the agreement.
Johnson, who worked for District 214 for nearly a decade, was hired as chief school business official in Mundelein High School District 120 on Jan. 12.
Hiring her permanent replacement in District 214 is being put on hold until the board completes the hiring process for a new superintendent, Dussling said.
After completing rounds of interviews with candidates in closed session, a vote to extend a contract to a new superintendent could come in April, he said.