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John A. Logan College Board Trustees to discuss Open Meetings Act violation


 
BY CHANDA GREEN
Contributing Writer
Posted on 7/19/2019, 10:52 AM

CARTERVILLE -- The agenda for the John A. Logan board of trustees July meeting includes a discussion of the recent letter from the Illinois Attorney General's office, advising trustees that they were in violation of the Open Meetings Act when they held a closed session on March 2, 2016 to discuss the plan to lay off 55 employees.

The board voted to schedule that discussion during its June meeting and that attorneys for the board are preparing a report on the board's options and legal ramifications. It is unclear at this point whether the board will honor the attorney general's request to release the recording of that closed session to the public.

The issue was further complicated by the fact that the board had voted earlier this year to destroy some of the older recordings of meetings and closed sessions, which included the March 2, 2016 closed session in question. However, a subsequent email from the attorney general's Public Access Bureau to the board's attorneys, dated July 8, included a copy of the verbatim audio recording.

It read, in part, "It is the Public Access Bureau's understanding that neither the board of trustees of John A. Logan College (Board) nor your office currently possess the closed session verbatim recording from the March 2, 2016 closed session, which is the subject of the determination issued by our office on June 13, 2019.

"Accordingly, enclosed is a copy of the verbatim audio recording from the March 2, 2016 closed meeting. We look forward to the Board's anticipated cooperation."

The attorney general's opinion was issued as a result of a request for review filed by Brandi Husch, the student trustee at the time.

Husch was the only trustee who opposed the layoffs being discussed, and when she attempted to argue her position during that closed session, she said Trustee Bill Kilquist brought up an old and unrelated legal issue of hers in an attempt to "shame her into silence."

"I was ridiculed by a board member because I chose to speak up for Logan students," she said during the regular March board meeting. At that time, Board Chairman Don Brewer cut Husch off and admonished her for talking about what was said in a closed session. That was when she decided to file her complaint, she said.

In the attorney general's June 13 letter, Edie Steinberg, the assistant attorney general in the public access bureau, wrote that the board violated the Open Meetings Act because the discussion held during the closed or executive session was mostly "general" concerning "categories of employees" and not specific employees as allowed by Section 2(c) (1) of the Open Meetings Act.

"The board only discussed specific employees by name for less than six minutes of the meeting," she wrote, adding that the trustees met for just over one hour and 10 minutes, but "spoke about specific employees without naming them for just over two minutes."

"To remedy this violation, this office asks that the board vote to release to Ms. Husch, and to make publicly available, a copy of the verbatim recording of its March 2, 2016 closed session at issue here," Steinberg wrote. "The Board may redact only those portions that discuss specific employees."

Near the start of the June board meeting, Chairman Kilquist asked trustees if they wanted to put that discussion on the agenda for the July meeting.

Rebecca Borsmiller made a motion to do just that, seconded by Aaron Smith. They were the only two trustees who expressed support of releasing the recording to the public.

Of the current trustees, only Kilquist, Ray Hancock and Jake Rendleman were trustees in March 2016.

President Ron House has repeatedly commented -- during the June meeting and in subsequent media interviews -- that the attorney general's opinion is advisory, not binding, and therefore requires no action. He has also reiterated that it is "up to the board" whether or not to release the recording and that there would be no penalty if the decision were not to honor the attorney general's request.

House has also defended the board's vote to destroy its copy of the recording, stating that they are only required by law to keep tapes for 18 months, and that the board kept the recording for 24 months before routinely voting to destroy older tapes, including the one in question, earlier this year.

He has also complained about the length of time -- 39 months -- it took for the attorney general to offer an opinion on the matter, calling that time lag "a little bit crazy."

Anne Thompson, an attorney with the Public Access Bureau of the Illinois Attorney General, said that the 39-month delay in issuing an opinion was due to the "high volume of reviews" in the office.

"Last year, we processed more than 3,700 requests for reviews," Thompson said. "The public access counselor tries to work as quickly as possible, but we have a high volume of requests. I can tell you that the attorney general is committed to increasing the counselor's resources."

She also said that the opinion was a "nonbinding determination," but that her office "strongly encourages the board to comply with the request."