Two members of the Lyons District 103 Board of Education are complaining that last week’s school board meeting was cancelled because a district administrator was holding a political fundraiser on the same evening.
Martin Stack, District 103’s human resources director, is the Democratic candidate for a seat on the three-member Cook County Board of Review, which hears property tax assessment appeals in Cook County.
Stack is challenging incumbent Republican Dan Patlak in the November election in the Board of Review’s 1st District.
Stack’s campaign hosted a $75-a-plate fundraiser at the Capri Banquets in Countryside on July 28, the evening of a regularly scheduled District 103 school board meeting. On July 26, Charline Doody, the secretary to Superintendent Carol Baker, sent an email to all school board members saying that the meeting would be cancelled due to the lack of a quorum and rescheduled for Aug. 4.
“We cannot hold a meeting unless we have at least four members of the board attending, and we received notification on Monday that some of the board members were unable to attend,” Baker told the Landmark last week.
Five school board members — Michael Bennett, Jorge Torres, Catherine Broderick, Kendra Pierce, and Colleen Shipbaugh – did not responded to emails from the Landmark asking them if they could have attended the board meeting and if they attended Stack’s fundraiser.
Stack said he wasn’t sure how many, if any, District 103 school board members attended his fundraiser.
“I don’t even know, I have no idea,” Stack said. “In fact I don’t think I even saw one. There were quite a number of people there.”
Baker, however, confirmed Tuesday afternoon after the Landmark’s press time that she attended the fundraiser and that she’d been requested to make an appearance “by the school board president,” Michael Bennett.
In addition to herself, Baker said, those in attendance at the fundraiser included Bennett and fellow school board members Torres and Pierce.
“I wanted to support [Stack] as an employee, and also it was a really good opportunity to meet a lot of the local leaders of the community. And since I’m trying to build consensus with all members and all leaders of the community, I thought it would be a really good chance to shake a few hands and meet a few people,” Baker said. “So I stayed for about 20 minutes or half an hour. Just enough time to be introduced to some people that I hadn’t yet met.”
Stack said that about 300 people attended the fundraiser which netted his campaign about $70,000.
Two school board members, Joanne Schaeffer and Sharon Anderson, the only members not aligned with Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, said they were able to attend the school board meeting and were upset it was cancelled.
“If there was a catastrophe, or something major going on I am completely understanding,” said Schaeffer, who has been a member of the District 103 Board of Education for the past 37 years. “There’s a blizzard, there’s a flood, there’s a fire, I’m completely understanding. But a political fundraiser and you give up your duty as a board member and cancel the meeting? That’s a first and I’ve been sitting here a long time.”
Anderson was also disturbed that the meeting was cancelled. She said she believes the fundraiser was the reason for postponing the meeting.
“They never told us specifically why it was cancelled other than there wouldn’t be a quorum,” Anderson said. “It’s a little too coincidental that five people couldn’t make it.”
Stack said that he did not believe that his fundraiser was the reason that the school board meeting was postponed.
“I don’t believe so at all, to tell you the truth,” Stack said. “It’s the middle of the summer; people go away.”
Baker told the Landmark last week that postponing the meeting for a week would have no negative consequences for the district.
“It really doesn’t make that much of a difference,” Baker said. “It’s only a week out so the bills that have to get paid still get paid on time, all of that is fine. We have some new staff that we’re approving. All of that information is in place, it’s just waiting for board approval. It really has no impact.”
But Baker’s reassurance didn’t satisfy Anderson.
“She’s probably right, it is just a week later, but that’s not the point,” Anderson said. “The point is there was no meeting for July. We still had employees who had some insurance questions, no meeting to address that.”
Stack, a lawyer and resident of Western Springs, was appointed to his $75,000-a-year human resources position late last year. Despite the 1st District being drawn to favor a Republican, Patlak only won by 20,000 votes four years ago with 51.59 percent of the vote. Stack says that he believes he can win in what could be a very strong Democratic year in Cook County.
“Primary numbers were way up from the last election, Democratic numbers,” Stack said. “I think that’s doable in a presidential year.”
The 1st District covers most of suburban Cook County except for heavily Democratic areas in northern, southern and near western suburbs. No candidates ran for the post in the March Democratic primary, so Stack was selected to run in the general election by the Democratic township committeemen of the district.
“I’ve been involved in politics one way or the other since I was a kid, and I figured I’m 58 and I’ve sat on the sidelines, so why not jump in,” said Stack. “There was an opening and I decided to go for it.”
Stack apparently was the only applicant for the spot on the ballot.
“As far as I know, he was the only guy interested,” said State Rep. Michael Zalewski the Riverside Township Democratic Committeeman.
Stack will be outspent by Patlak, who had a little more than $460,000 in his campaign committee as of June 30. At that time Stack’s campaign committee had a balance of just under $4,000.
Stack’s campaign so far has received $4,000 in campaign contributions from Odelson and Sterk, the politically connected law firm which represents both District 103 and the village of Lyons. Mark Sterk made an additional $2,000 donation on July 28, according to the Illinois Board of Elections.
Also on July 28, Stack received a $5,000 donations from Bruce Liimatainen, a frequent contributor to Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, and $1,500 from Stars and Stripes, a printing company used for political mailings.
Stack’s campaign also received $985 in contributions from Citizens for Christopher Getty and another $985 from Getty’s local political organization, United Citizens Party.
“I know Chris, I think Chris is a great guy. He’s not the only person that’s supporting me though,” Stack said.
A Getty-backed slate of four candidates took over control of the District 103 school board in 2015 when Bennett, Broderick, Shipbaugh, and Torres were elected. Pierce, whose father-in-law works for the village of Lyons, was appointed to the school board in April to fill the vacancy created by the death of Mark Camasta.
Schaeffer has vocally complained about political interference in school district matters since the Getty aligned group took control and she expressed her displeasure with the decision to postpone the school board meeting in emails to other board members and the top district administrators.
“I don’t know how serious anybody takes being on school board when they opt to attend a political fundraiser instead of fulfilling their elected and sworn responsibility to school board, district, children and taxpayers,” Schaeffer wrote to fellow board members.