Lyons resident Joanne Schaeffer, a member of the Brookfield-Lyons School District 103 board since 1979, is challenging the nominating petitions of seven candidates who filed to run for the school board in the April 5 election.
Schaeffer says she’s alarmed that five candidates have banded together to seize control of the board for political purposes.
In the case of five candidates – Mitch Milenkovic, Alan Ermitage, James Dever, Lilia Rivera-Ortiz (all four-year terms) and Doug Lane (two-year term) – her objections are identical, principally having to do with irregular signatures and addresses on petitions.
The challenge to Lane’s candidacy will be heard by the district’s electoral board on Thursday, Jan. 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the district administration building, 4100 Joliet Ave. in Lyons. The electoral board will consider challenges to candidates for the four-year terms at the administration building on Saturday, Jan. 8, beginning at 9:30 a.m.
Schaeffer is attempting to block what she considers the threat of a school-board takeover by the United Citizens Party of Lyons.
UCP is the party of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty. Rivera-Ortiz and Ermitage in 2007 ran unsuccessfully for Lyons trustee as part of a slate including Getty.
“I expected he’d run candidates,” Schaeffer said. “I didn’t expect a takeover. To me this is a concern all the way around. With me, it all smells of a monopoly.”
Getty is the son of former Lyons Village President Kenneth Getty, who circulated many of the petitions for the five candidates. Kenneth Getty was ousted from office in the 1990s when he was convicted of bid-rigging and spent time in federal prison.
The Gettys and their insurance business were the subject of a Chicago Tribune story in December related to their apparent unwillingness to release documents pertaining to village businesses purchasing liability insurance from them.
Christopher Getty said he agreed to back candidates for the school board after fielding numerous complaints about the burden Dist. 103 places on property taxpayers.
“I field almost all the complaints for their taxing,” Getty said. “The only way to take control of it is getting fresh bodies in there to change the way things are. I said if individuals sought me out, I’d be glad to assist.”
Dist. 103 voters passed a tax referendum in 2004, which allowed the district to raise property taxes and increase district revenues. In the process, district officials admit they overspent in the years immediately following the referendum. For the past two years, however, the Dist. 103 board has tightened its belt and has made staffing and program cuts as it seeks a way to balance the budget by next year.
“We did our due diligence and tightened everything,” Schaeffer said.
Asked why she thought Getty would be interested in exerting an influence on the school board, Schaeffer said, “There’s insurance there. There’s contracts there.”
“I don’t like politics in the school board,” she said. “This is a whole different ballgame.”
Getty brushed off the implication that he wanted to take over the school board, saying he was helping out candidates who sought his backing. And, he said, there’s no way to effect change on the board without having the ability to do it.
“To get things done you need the right amount of votes,” Getty said. “If we’re going to run people for the school board, we’re not going to run one or two people.”
Dist. 103, which has seen its share of electoral turmoil in past years, has five seats up for grabs in the upcoming election. Four of the seats are four-year terms, while one is a two-year term.
The race has produced a total of 12 candidates for the five seats. Nine candidates, including four incumbents, have filed to run for the four-year terms. Another three have filed to compete for the two-year term.
In addition to challenging Dever, Rivera-Ortiz, Ermitage, Milenkovic and Lane, Schaeffer is also challenging the four-year candidacy of Daniel Rank and two-year candidate Stephen Mazur. Mazur and Ermitage are also being challenged by Lyons resident Gary Benedik. Kathleen Fuentes, a Stickney resident running for a four-year term, is being challenged by her neighbor, Al Kulaga.
Fuentes is an incumbent, appointed to the school board in 2010 when Judith Petrucci resigned. Incumbents whose petitions are not being challenged include Schaeffer, board President David DeLeshe and Deanna Viti Huxhold.
Mazur is no stranger to Dist. 103. A former member of the school board, he resigned in November 2008, saying he was moving to Western Springs. Now he’s back, claiming his former address in Lyons as his primary dwelling, even while admitting he owns homes in Western Springs and Fox Lake.
“I didn’t leave the district,” said Mazur. “I own a lot of property in the district. I pay a lot of tax money and I’m seeing a lot of that tax money pissed away.”
Mazur is particularly annoyed by the 6-percent raises the board gave to Dist. 103 Superintendent Michael Warner for each of the two final years of his contract. Warner will retire in June 2012.
“We’re in hard times,” Mazur said. “Do we have to give him a golden parachute?”
Schaeffer called Mazur’s attempt to run for office in the district after moving out and resigning as “blatant.”
As for Daniel Rank, a Lyons resident, Schaeffer is objecting to his candidacy based on various “irregularities” with Rank’s nominating petitions.
In the case of Fuentes, Kulaga is challenging the incumbent’s ability to run for two offices within the district at the same time. In addition to the Dist. 103 board, Fuentes has filed to run for village trustee in Stickney.