Proviso board members suspect closed session meeting tape tampered with

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By SETH STERN

When the Proviso High School Board of Education votes at the start of each meeting on whether to approve the minutes of their past meetings, the outcome is usually rather predictable.

Board President Chris Welch and the three other members of the board's majority vote to approve, while opposition board members Charles Flowers, Theresa Kelly and Gary Marine abstain from the vote, a symbolic protest of the direction taken by the majority in past meetings.

At the board's December meeting, however, things were different. The minutes being voted upon were from an especially contentious meeting "the closed session meeting in July that occurred immediately before the board voted to fire then Superintendent Greg Jackson.

And according to the board minority, led at the meeting by Marine, the minutes are wildly inadequate, containing only the names of the people who attended and a couple other minor details.

Kelly said there are two major reasons for the lack of records. First, the tape recorder that was left in the room during the meeting apparently failed to record.

Second, she said, everyone was expelled from the room other than board members and attorneys, including Superintendent's Assistant Susie Crane, who normally takes notes on closed session meetings to assist her in recording the minutes.

"I just wonder, did someone get in there and mess with that tape?" Kelly said. "It never happened before, and for it to happen at such an important meeting makes me wonder."

Kelly said she could not discuss what took place at the closed session meeting, but said that the meeting included legal advice from the board's attorney Mark Sterk as well as discussions of Jackson's severance package.

"It definitely would have been good to have," she said.

Board member Charles Flowers said that he walked out of the meeting in question "because it got to the point where they were just making up their own rules."

He said that he shares the suspicions expressed by Marine and Kelly, and noted that Proviso Director of Facilities Jose Santiago, who was once disciplined by Jackson for campaigning for Welch on school grounds, was seen "pacing back and forth" near the closed session meeting room after the board members had returned to open session.

At the board's September meeting, Santiago was promoted from Proviso West building manager.

At the meeting, according to sources who were in attendance, Welch responded to Marine's questions by asking Crane if the minutes were as complete as possible. Once she responded affirmatively, the board proceeded to vote 4-3 to approve the minutes.

Welch, who is running against Karen Yarbrough for 7th District State Representative in the March democratic primaries, did not return several calls asking for comment.

The circumstances surrounding Jackson's firing have long been an issue of contention. In July, Welch and the board majority boycotted the board's regular meeting. The following day, an agenda was prepared for a special meeting to vote on Jackson's termination.

This sequence led the board minority, as well as many of Welch's critics, to suspect that an illegal meeting had taken place during which the majority had reached an agreement on Jackson's firing.

Marine said that his suspicions were especially heightened because, on entering the closed session meeting, a consensus seemingly had been reached on Jackson's severance package.

Jackson was replaced by Robert Libka, previously the district's director of auxiliary programs, while Bellwood Trustee Phyllistine Murphy was hired as assistant superintendent for operations and technology.

When Regional Superintendent Robert Ingraffia informed the district that Libka could not legally serve as superintendent because he lacked the necessary certification from the state, the position of Chief Education Officer was created for Libka, while Murphy was made superintendent.

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