A member of the Lyons Township High School District 204 Board of Education, during a closed-door discussion in January, suggested that a company that had bid $55 million for a 70-acre parcel of land the school district owned in Willow Springs might be working with some local politicians and officeholders connected to the Lyons Township School Treasurer’s Office to make LTHS, and specifically the school board, look bad.

Michael Thomas

“I think the TTO is involved,” school board member Michael Thomas said during one of two closed session discussions held by the D204 school board on Jan. 23.

The revelation comes after a binding opinion in April by the Illinois Attorney General Public Access Counselor ordering the recordings of those sessions released and a 4-0 vote by the school board on June 5 to do that.

The Attorney General’s Office opinion, which followed a complaint filed by a Burr Ridge resident, ruled the LTHS school board violated the Open Meetings Act by discussing matters other than those allowed by law as shielded from public view.

Recordings of two-plus hours of closed session discussion concerned the potential sale of undeveloped land the school district owns in Willow Springs.

LTHS officially put the land up for sale late last year after being contacted by Bridge Industrial in the spring of 2022. The closed sessions occurred before and after the open portion of the Jan. 23 school board meeting, during which the school board voted unanimously to reject two bids for the property because they did not conform to bid specifications, including not submitting the required earnest money.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act calls for public bodies to meet in open session except for some limited exceptions. One of those exceptions is “[T]he setting of a price for sale or lease of property owned by the public body.”

The Attorney General’s Office concluded that since LTHS had already set a minimum price for the Willow Springs property, the discussion the board engaged in during closed sessions on Jan. 23 did not fit that exception.

The discussions mostly revolved around how to move forward with a potential sale after rejecting the two bids. It was during that discussion that Thomas laid out his suspicions.

For a decade, LTHS and the Lyons TTO, which manages money for school districts in Lyons Township, have been feuding about money. There was multimillion dollar lawsuit between the two entities that was decided largely in favor of LTHS in 2021.

LTHS has now left the TTO, but the two public bodies are still fighting in court with LTHS arguing the TTO is still withholding approximately $2 million that belongs to the high school district.

In the recording, Thomas appears describe a photo that ran in the June 6, 2022 issue of the Des Plaines Valley News, which shows Bridge Industrial partner Jonathan Pozerycki, at a groundbreaking at the site of the former Electro-Motive plant in McCook, which Bridge had purchased earlier that year.

Among those wielding shovels in that groundbreaking photo with Pozerycki were Lyons Township Supervisor and village of Lyons Mayor Christopher Getty, who is the brother of TTO Treasurer Ken Getty, and McCook Mayor Terrance Carr.

Thomas noted that in the spring of 2022 that Bridge reached out to LTHS asking if the school would be willing to sell the Willow Springs land and made an unofficial offer. In January 2023, on the verge of purchasing that land, Bridge was backing out of the deal. Thomas found that very suspicious.

“For them to come back and say that they want to change the terms and conditions of a sale of this magnitude is, to me, flabbergasting,” Thomas said.

Thomas and other school board members were concerned that Bridge executives had recently told officials from the Village of Willow Springs, who voiced their opposition to the sale at an LTHS school board meeting, about their discussions with LTHS. That, to Thomas at least, raised the possibility of collusion.

Thomas also indicated that he believed Bridge Industrial had conversations with Willow Springs officials about the feasibility of a possible development before LTHS announced it had accepted the bid.

“For [Willow Springs] not to have a conversation with Bridge and just say, ‘Oh, just two weeks ago was the first time we’ve had a conversation with Bridge’ is just hogwash,” Thomas said during closed session.

“I think that they have shown themselves to be very untrustworthy given the steps that they have taken in these last few weeks with this sale and matter, and you’ve got to believe that they have had to have conservations with Willow Springs,” Thomas said. “And for Willow Springs to come out here and to lambaste us over the last weeks is just amazing, because they’re the ones who have the final say in the zoning.”

Thomas said he was convinced that Bridge was colluding with the Lyons TTO and those connected with it adding that, while he favored selling the land, he would never vote to sell the land to Bridge.

“The likelihood that there is no connection to the TTO folks is highly unlikely,” Thomas said, adding that then-TTO board President Mike Thiessen, who lives in Willow Springs, would love to “gut” the LTHS school board.

Mike Thiessen

“They will downright do that, in a heartbeat,” Thomas said of the TTO.

Thiessen, who no longer is on the TTO board, told the Landmark that he has listened to the recording of the closed sessions and found Thomas’s allegations unfounded and irresponsible. 

“That is some serious tin-cap conspiracy theory stuff, deep, deep basement tin-cap conspiracy theory stuff,” Thiessen said of Thomas’s allegations. “It’s unbelievable that he would even make that comment, completely irresponsible, unprofessional, unbelievable.”

In closed session, LTHS school board member Julie Swinehart was skeptical of Thomas’s theory. She pointed out that Bridge was a big, reputable company backed by institutional investors.

“I don’t think they have time to deal with small-town politics,” Swinehart said.

During the closed session discussion, Thomas noted that McCook Mayor Terry Carr is the son of Willow Springs village Trustee Terrance M. Carr and is dating Willow Springs Mayor Melissa Neddermeyer, facts that Carr confirmed in a phone interview with the Landmark.

Carr said that he had no conversations with Bridge officials about the Willow Springs land and said he and Neddermeyer don’t talk much about their jobs.

“We don’t talk about the LT property,” said Carr, who grew up in Willow Springs. “She runs her town; I run my town.”

Carr said he also never talked about the Willow Springs property with Bridge officials.

“It never even came up in conversations that they were even looking for a piece of property in Willow Springs,” Carr said.

Contacted recently by the Landmark, Thomas said he stands by the comments he made in closed session.

Ryan Grace

Willow Springs Village Administrator Ryan Grace also had a strong reaction to Thomas’s comments, saying that the closed session recording shows that the LTHS school board does not care about representing the entire LTHS district.

“It’s very obvious that they do not care about Willow Springs or any of their constituents on this [south] side of Joliet Road,” said Grace, a former Lyons trustee and close associate of Lyons Mayor Christopher Getty.

Getty hired Grace as Lyons’ public works director in 2017 after Grace was terminated as head of maintenance at Lyons-Brookfield School District 103. Neddermeyer appointed Grace as Willow Springs village adminstrator in January 2022.

Neither Pozerycki, the Chicago Bridge partner who dealt with LTHS, or Lyons TTO Treasurer Ken Getty responded immediately to a request for comment about Thomas’ statements.

Also discussed during Jan. 23 closed sessions was whether LTHS Superintendent Brian Waterman should issue another invitation to meet with officials from Willow Springs, the pros and cons of doing that and why Waterman did not want to meet with officials from the Pleasantdale School District or the Pleasantdale Park District.

Waterman told the school board that he thought Willow Springs officials opposed the sale of the land by LTHS because they did not want to put in the spot of having to make a decision on whether to allow the land to be developed.

“I think that they’re terrified that it might get there,” Waterman said.

A lawyer for LTHS, Ares Dalianis, said a developer purchasing the Willow Springs land might challenge in court a decision by the village of Willow Springs to not grant a variance that would allow industrial or warehouse development. The land is a specially designated district, zoned only for retail, single-family residential or senior living.

“The odds of getting a zoning change are actually pretty good,” Dalianis told the board during closed session, although he did not elaborate on why he thought that.

The board members in closed session also talked about “messaging” and the need to get the word out to the wider LTHS community about the need to modernize facilities at LTHS, which is how the money received from selling the Willow Springs land would have been used. 

Then LTHS board member Alison Kelly said the school board would never be able to persuade those who live near the vacant land to support a sale of the land and its development, and that the school board should instead focus on selling the benefits of the sale to the wider LTHS community.

“Their property is going to be hurt by this, so I think we just need to get the people who are going to win from this feeling excited,” Kelly said.

Kelly said that she completely understood why those who live near the undeveloped wooded land are so opposed to the sale.

“We’d be fighting this tooth and nail if that was us out in that property,” Kelly said.

In late March the LTHS school board, which had received strong opposition to the proposed land sale from those who live near the property, took the Willow Springs property off the market and is not soliciting bids for the land at this time.