The Illinois Attorney’s General office has issued a binding opinion that Marge Hubacek, the president of the Lyons School District 103 Board of Education, violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act when she cut off public comment after about 20 minutes at contentious school board meeting last October.
The ruling, issued on Jan. 9 during Lisa Madigan’s last week as attorney general, stated that because the board had not set forth a formal rule in its policy manual, voted on and approved by the entire board, stating that public comment on any one topic was limited to 15 minutes it could not enforce such a rule, even though limit was set forth in a handout available at all school board meetings.
“Although the board stated that it relied on its welcome handout for a decade, the board did not demonstrate that it had taken action to establish or otherwise adopt the policies in the handout,” said Michael J. Luke, counsel to the attorney general in his ruling under Madigan’s name.
On Oct. 22, 2018, a standing-room crowd of approximately 100 people, plus some local television news crews, attended a school board meeting in the wake of news that the district had hired a middle school teacher who is facing charges of attempted murder.
Nine people, including Lyons Village President Christopher Getty and state Sen. Martin Sandoval, had addressed the board during the public comment period when Hubacek cut off the public comment.
At the time, McCook Mayor and Cook County Board Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski was standing at the microphone waiting to speak. Others were lined up behind him.
Seven of nine speakers who did publicly comment at the meeting were critical of the school board, with Sandoval calling for the co-interim superintendents to resign.
The decision to cut off public comment came after Brookfield resident Taylor Koch called for mass resignation of the school board.
Hubacek cut off public comment after about 20 minutes.
The binding opinion directed the board “to take appropriate action” to refrain “from applying unestablished and unrecorded rules to restrict public comment at future meeting meetings.”
Hubacek said she will ask the board to eventually take action to formally add the 15-minute rule to its official policy manual.
“If we’re supposed to have it in our policy, written in there, then we’re going to fix it,” Hubacek said.
Co-interim superintendent Robert Madonia said that the violation was a technicality.
“We just have to redo the policy and make it more formal, that’s all,” Madonia said. “It’s been a procedure for a long time. Any allegation that we had a 15-minute, three minutes per person format just for that meeting is not true.”
The complaint to the Attorney General’s Office was filed by Martin Stack, an attorney who served as the district’s director of human resources from late 2015 until 2017. While working for District 103, Stack unsuccessfully ran for a spot on the Cook County Board of Review.
Stack had been hired by District 103 when the school board was controlled by members who were elected with the support of Getty. Stack left the district after the Getty-backed faction lost its majority on the school board in 2017.
Stack, who lives in Western Springs, responded an email inquiry from the Landmark with the following statement:
“The ruling speaks for itself,” Stack wrote. “Obviously, Ms. Hubacek’s decision to curtail comments violated the Open Meetings Act. Her action was incompatible with the principles associated with free speech.”
The crowd that showed up at the Oct. 22 meeting was no accident. In addition to obvious concerns that parents had about having someone charged with attempted murder teaching sixth-grade English, there was an orchestrated attempt to generate a large crowd.
Fliers featuring the teacher’s mug shot were distributed in the district over the weekend preceding the Monday evening meeting. Signs featuring the mug shot were posted along the Joliet Avenue near the school district headquarters, and the flier was being handed out by people outside the door of George Washington Middle School as people came to the meeting.
“It was strictly a political circus,” said Co-interim Superintendent Patrick Patt. “It was done to make a point. It wasn’t done because of concern for kids, or any of that.”
Hubacek also said that the entire issue had been politicalized.
“It was all for show,” Hubacek said. “It’s political. Getty is running four candidates, they have six total running. You’d have to living under a rock not to realize what they’re doing.”