The Open Meetings Act exists because, believe it or not, there are times when government bodies like to slip things past the public without telling them exactly what they’re doing.
Take, for example, the possibility that a certain majority within a local governmental entity might — through an election — be losing its ability to dictate policy and reward its allies by handing out jobs and special considerations financed by taxpayers.
Without the Open Meetings Act serving as a safeguard against governments dealing in the dark, such a majority might be able, on its way out of power, use taxpayer money to hand out sweet deals before the new majority can come in and make changes.
Back on April 13, a lame-duck majority of the Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Board of Education called a special meeting at which they approved a host of contract extensions for administrators.
There were also a couple of new contracts given to people holding positions — like maintenance director and the school district administrative assistant — that had never needed contracts previously. The new contracts kept those employees from being dismissed by the new board, at least for a year.
But there was one deal in particular that rankles, the details of which no one outside the board majority knew about until the deal was unveiled that night. It was an amendment to the superintendent’s contract that not only extended her deal for two more years, to 2021, but gave her a roughly 6 percent pay increase, bumped the number of vacation days she was allowed to bank by 20 and provided her with health insurance until the age of 65 if she makes it to 2021 and then retires. She’s now in her early 50s.
Before the vote on the contracts, mention was made of who was getting deals, but no details were revealed to the public. The Landmark sought the contracts via a Freedom of Information request, and it took us a month to get them.
No wonder, when an outgoing majority is cutting sweet deals with favored administrators.
The Landmark has filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General seeking an inquiry into whether District 103 violated the Open Meetings Act in April by failing to disclose information regarding the contracts.
According to the Open Meetings Act, “Final action shall be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that will inform the public of the business being conducted.”
We don’t believe that’s what transpired at the April 13 meeting, and it did not meet that standard, especially when the action was going to be dipping into taxpayers’ pockets to the tune of more than $500,000 for two more years on the superintendent’s contract and then about a decade’s worth of health insurance premiums.
This wasn’t a minor change to a contract, this was a parachute handed to someone who was going to be under the microscope of a new board majority.
On May 31, the new majority has called a special meeting to look into what happened on April 13 and whether there is any remedy. That’s a good first step.