At a special meeting last month a bitterly divided Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Board of Education voted 4 to 3 to award a $2,000-a-month social media contract to a 20-something graduate the district.
Board members approved a month-to-month deal to hire a company called City Media LLC to create and manage a Facebook page for District 103 and prepare the District 103 quarterly newsletters.
City Media was created by Julian “Jay” Torres last fall. The address for the company is a two-bedroom condominium in LaGrange Highlands where Torres apparently lives. The company has no website or presence on social media. Torres is listed as the CEO of the City Media.
Torres apparently is not related to District 103 school board President Jorge Torres. But, it was the school board president who pitched using City Media’s services, according to Superintendent Kristopher Rivera.
“He was brought to my attention, he had approached, I believe, Jorge Torres and we coordinated a meeting to have him present to us,” Rivera said. “He gave us a presentation.”
Rivera said those in attendance during the presentation were himself, Jorge Torres, Human Resources Director Brian Towne and Director of Student Services Colleen Bergren.
School board members had voted 6 to 1 in February to table a vote on hiring City media, with Jorge Torres casting the only dissenting vote, until Julian Torres could appear before the entire school board.
But Julian Torres was not present at the March 18 meeting and never appeared before the entire school board. Nor were his qualifications ever presented to the entire school board.
The only thing board members, other than Jorge Torres, received was a one-page contract. This angered board members Sharon Anderson, Marge Hubacek and Shannon Johnson, who all voted against the contract at a meeting marked by bickering and raised voices.
Anderson, Hubacek and Johnson accused Jorge Torres of ramming through the contract at a special meeting limited to only 10 people — the six school board members, Rivera, the school district secretary, a lawyer for the school district and one member of the press.
Another member of the press was told he could not stay inside the room, because it was limited to 10 people under an exception to the Illinois Open Meetings Act authorized to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
“We have a board meeting next week and you could have waited, but you chose to dupe the public,” Johnson said to Jorge Torres during the meeting.
Hubacek complained that board members didn’t know anything about the man they gave the contract to.
“We didn’t get a presentation from this person. We really don’t know what his qualifications are,” Hubacek said, adding that board members had not even seen Torres’ resume. “We don’t know his credentials. We’re not getting to ask him questions. This guy might be the best thing since sliced bread, but we don’t know.”
Multiple attempts by the Landmark to reach Julian Torres through intermediaries have not been successful.
According to his LinkedIn page, Torres works as a pricing administrator for Newly Weds Foods, a company that makes batters, breadings, coatings, spice mixes and seasonings for the processed food industry. He graduated from DePaul University in 2014 with a degree in finance.
“He’s a kid from our district, and I believe we should give him the opportunity,” Jorge Torres said.
Julian Torres seems to have connections to the forces behind the current school board majority.
He is a longtime Facebook friend of Ted Tala, the director of parks and recreation at the village of Lyons. His likes on Facebook include Parents for Student Excellence, the campaign group that supported Jorge Torres and the rest of the current majority, Vito Campanile, Olivia Quintero and Winfred Rodriguez, in last year’s school board elections. Those four all voted to award the contract to City Media.
Quintero and Rodriguez declined to comment after the meeting.
Julian Torres’ Facebook likes also included the village of Lyons and Odelson and Sterk, the politically connected law firm hired by the current school board majority.
Discussion was heated during the March 18 meeting.
A motion to table the contract nearly succeeded when Campanile, who was participating by telephone from his home, initially voted yes. Jorge Torres asked Campanile if that was what he really wanted to do, drawing howls of outrage from Anderson and Johnson.
“Jorge, he just voted you don’t get to do that,” Anderson shouted.
But Campanile then changed his vote, effectively killing the motion to table.
“I couldn’t hear with all the talking,” Campanile said, explaining that he was confused at first whether he was voting to approve the contract or to table the motion to approve the contract.
Johnson told Jorge Torres that she would report him to the West 40 Intermediate Service Center, which supervises local school districts for the Illinois State Board of Education.
“I have been in contact with our field representative all day today,” Johnson said. “They are on to you. They are investigating it and as soon as I report this, they’re going to know what’s going on.”
With school out until at least mid-April because of the coronavirus outbreak, Hubacek questioned the wisdom of approving the contract right now.
“We don’t even know if school is coming back,” Hubacek said. “I don’t think we have to approve this today.”
Those voting against the contract noted that the yearly amount of the contract fell just under the $25,000 amount that triggers a requirement for competitive bidding.