MAHOMET — A Monday night special meeting of the Mahomet-Seymour board of education turned into heated discussions that spotlighted the rift among some members and resulted in adjournment based on disagreement on whether the night’s topic should be discussed without the district superintendent present.
“Here’s the problem, okay? We talk that we want to work together. This was not a sign of working together,” board vice president Lori Larson said of the setting of the meeting by three members. “And frankly, I have been like, ‘Wow.’ I had made a commitment to a young man to be at his football game tonight — his last game — but I came because I was elected by the community to be here.
“I don’t know what everybody else thinks. But you might not have had a quorum,” she added. “This is ridiculous. We’re ‘tit and tat.’ How are we going to move forward when we are in the position that we are (for) this?
“We’re not working effectively,” Larson said.
Board President Max McComb, at the beginning of Monday’s meeting, said that three board members called for the session. It was revealed through discussion that followed that those members were Meghan Hennesy, Ken Keefe and Colleen Schultz, all relative newcomers to the school board, elected in April. Other members are those who have served longer: Larson, McComb, secretary Merle Giles and Jeremy Henrichs.
Generally speaking, the board seems split along those lines, with Hennesy, Keefe and Schultz often agreeing on any given topic while Larson, McComb, Giles and Henrichs often, but not always, vote alike.
Monday’s meeting brought no public comment during time allotted for it. The agenda was for approval of an addendum to Superintendent Lindsey Hall’s contract and discussion of the superintendent’s goals.
Hall was not present at the meeting due to previously planned travel that she could not cancel, according to McComb, and that was one point of contention that brought conflict.
“She had a trip planned — that was rude,” Larson said of setting the meeting when Hall could not attend.
Hennesy responded, “It might have been nice had we known that. We agreed as a board to let people know if we were going out of town. She did not let us know that. We would not have scheduled it tonight.”
“Did you ask her if she would be here tonight? Did you?” Larson said.
Hennesy said, “I did not. She could have replied to what we sent her and said, ‘I’ll be out of town. Could we do this another night?’”
“She could, okay?” Larson said in the exchange. “But she didn’t ask for (the meeting) either. It’s a level of respect that works both ways.”
Hennesy said, “I understand, Lori, but when we set a meeting, if she’s not going to be here, she could have said, ‘I’m actually not going to be here.’”
McComb said at that point, “Nobody asked if she was going to be here. Three board members set the meeting and the meeting was set.”
Hennesy said that scheduling Monday’s meeting was due to McComb, Larson and Hall agreeing that the school board would set the superintendent’s goals at its Nov. 4 meeting, past the end of October, which is the date by which Hall’s contract calls for those goals to be set.
Monday’s special meeting being called “was based upon being told that two people and the superintendent had made a decision that the board was not going to keep what is memorialized in the contract,” Hennesy said. “At that point, what are we supposed to do if we are trying to fulfill our role as board members? Contracts are kind of particular, and pretty important, and so you can’t just change a contract when you want to.”
The addendum to Hall’s contract also brought to the surface tensions on the board. Keefe called for the removal of some paragraphs, and the board turned that motion down with Hennesy, Schultz and Keefe voting “yes” and Giles, Henrichs, Larson and McComb voting “no.” A motion by Giles to approve the addendum as presented then passed, with “yes” votes from Giles, Henrichs, Larson and McComb, and “no” votes from Hennesy, Schultz and Keefe.
The addendum, drafted by the district’s attorney working with McComb, was done out of an abundance of caution, he said, since Hall’s goals as superintendent were to be finished by the end of October, according to her contract. The addendum, stated as being made a part of Hall’s original July 16, 2018, contract, extends the time for the board to set Hall’s goals, stating, in part: “…the parties have mutually agreed to extend the deadline for the discussion of goals for the 2019-2020 school year until November 30, 2019, with the intention of scheduling the discussion of such goals for November 4, 2019.”
McComb said verbal agreement between Hall and the district to extend the deadline for those goals is acceptable, and he said the district attorney agreed. Hennesy, Keefe and Schultz indicated they disagree with that assessment and had questions for the attorney.
“Quite frankly, I’m at the point where, like the Village of Mahomet, where they bring their attorney to every meeting, I’m about at the point where I’m going to say, ‘Let’s do that,’” McComb said after Hennesy emphasized the importance of strictly adhering to Hall’s contract.
Giles said, “I think that contracts are extremely important but more important is the human side, and on this thing, the human side got dropped completely.”
Hennesy then said, “I agree. When we were told that she wasn’t going to do it, and then they had decided to breach the contract.”
McComb replied, “The attorney who’s not here will tell you there was no breach of the contract.”
Henrichs said, “I think that if you have an agreement from the person who has signed the contract that says they’re willing to wait (to have goals set), then that’s fine. There’s no legal issue there.”
“The legal issue is if the goals aren’t set in accordance with the contract, the goals aren’t valid,” he said.
McComb said, “The goals are valid. We set goals all the time.”
“Oh come on, Ken. That is just ridiculous,” Henrichs said, noting that the board did have all summer to discuss and set goals for Hall. “Because we’ve had such inefficient meetings like this, we can’t get it done. I mean, this is ridiculous! It’s such a dysfunctional board!”
McComb said, “Do we need to (bring) the attorney for the meetings? I’m beginning to think so.”
At that point, Larson said, “As we’re up here demonstrating this, we have an opportunity to continue the legacy of greatness in our community. If this is what’s going to happen, you’re going to lose good teachers; we’re going to lose good administrators. That’s what I’m afraid of.
“It takes everybody that works in this school and in the community to make it all work, and we have to lead with that example — all of us, myself included,” she added.
After the vote that approved the addendum to Hall’s contract, the meeting moved to discussion of the superintendent’s goals. Directly after that vote, Hennesy added to her earlier comments.
“It was never our intent to have the discussion without Dr. Hall,” she said. “Had we known that she wasn’t going to be here, we would not have called the meeting for this night.
“We were just trying to make sure that we were doing what we were contractually obligated to do,” Hennesy added.
Giles replied, “There should never be a meeting called without a conversation with the superintendent. She is our CEO. Period.”
Hennesy said, “She’s actually not a member of the board, though, and … the rules of the board for calling special meetings are that the board members call it to the board members. Rules have words and meanings that matter.
“(Hall) could have said, ‘I am not going to be here.’ She didn’t tell us she was leaving before that,” Hennesy added.
McComb interjected, “Nobody seemed to care when they scheduled the meeting if anybody could be here except the three people that scheduled it.”
Hennesy sighed and said, “I don’t believe that that’s true.”
Schultz said, “We never would have called it if we knew she was out of town, and she’s our employee, so as our employee she should inform us if she’s not going to be here.”
McComb shortly thereafter asked if there was a motion to adjourn, which Henrichs made and Larson seconded about 22 minutes into the meeting.
“Are we not going to discuss the goals that she has suggested? Or the goals from last year?” Keefe asked.
Henrichs said, “I think (we should) wait ‘til she’s here.”
Keefe then somewhat sarcastically called Hall “our eighth board member.”
Larson said, “Ken, would you like to have a performance evaluation of yourself if you weren’t present?”
Keefe said, “This isn’t a performance evaluation. This is the setting of goals. The evaluation happens when? When does the evaluation happen? Because it did happen in April this year for some mysterious reason but it’s not supposed to happen in April. When is it supposed to happen?”
Larson and Henrichs responded that the evaluation should be done in February.
“Why did the board not have that ...” Keefe said.
A clearly frustrated Larson interrupted, “I move we adjourn the meeting.”
Also appearing frustrated, Keefe said, “I’m done. I’m done.”
Board members unanimously agreed to adjourn, and did so at 7:55 p.m. The session began at 7:30 p.m.
Keefe’s comments about April and Hall’s evaluation are an apparent reference to Open Meetings Act violations he alleged previous boards made before he was elected to the board of education. His accusations included one that states that Hall, in closed session, asked the school board in April to evaluate her job performance “before the newly elected board members are seated,” according to Keefe.
The Illinois attorney general’s office declined to take up the issues with OMA that Keefe alleged, but did offer the Mahomet-Seymour school board detailed guidelines on following the act.