Right-hand man gets school board seat

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By Josh Adams

After accepting applications over the course of four days-including a national holiday-the District 209 Proviso High Schools Board of Education appointed the board president's former campaign manager to fill a vacancy within its ranks.

Brian Cross, a Westchester resident, organized President Chris Welch's unsuccessful bid for state office in 2006 and helped organize support for a slate of school board candidates backed by Welch in the 2007 local elections. He is also an administrative assistant in Eugene Moore's Cook County Recorder of Deeds office. By a split vote on Monday, Cross was chosen to serve the remainder of Charles Flowers' term, which expires in 2009.

Cross was one of three applicants for the post, which was created July 2 when the board declared Flowers' seat vacant. On July 1 Flowers was sworn in as the Suburban Cook County Regional Superintendent, giving him some supervisory authority over the local high school board.

Welch, who voted with the majority to appoint his longtime friend, said he would be happy to work with any of the three applicants for the post. Cross, however, has an outstanding record of community service, Welch said.

"I have particularly found Brian Cross to be a dedicated citizen of Proviso Township," Welch said.

Cross does not have children in the school district and his involvement in the public high schools has been minimal up to this point. After being sworn in he pointed to his work with a dance club organized by Proviso as his only interaction with the district. He couldn't recall exactly when he was involved with the dance club. Two years ago he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Proviso Township trustee board and said he has served as a board member for a public library in the area.

"I have a history of community involvement," Cross said.

Since 1999 Cross has worked in the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office under Moore, who is a close political ally of Welch's. According to public records obtained by the Forest Park Review, he is paid a salary of $62,000 for his work as a level-five administrative assistant.

Moore's chief of staff, Sue Henry, is also a member of the District 209 school board. Henry was absent from Monday's meeting.

Board member Brian Cox, a resident of Forest Park, cast the lone vote against giving the vacant seat to Cross. Theresa Kelly abstained from the vote, but said the move was inappropriate. Cross was appointed by a tally of 3-1 with Welch, Robin Foreman and Dan Adams voting in favor.

"I feel that this again, is patronage, which this board is known for," Kelly said.

Township residents Kevin McDermott and Linda Howard were the other applicants. All three candidates were interviewed in closed session immediately prior to Monday's vote. Each interview lasted approximately 10 minutes.

Cross acknowledged his social and political ties to Welch, but said he was shown no favoritism by the board. As for the accusation that his appointment was orchestrated by his employer, Moore, Cross said the public will have nearly two years to make that determination when the seat comes up for re-election.

"It's up to the voters to decide," Cross said.

Under state law the school board is allowed 45 days to fill a vacant seat. Meanwhile, the seven-member board would face the possibility of seeing its effectiveness stalled by votes ending in a 3-3 tie. The decision to whittle the application period down to four days during the week of July 4 was made by the board, according to Superintendent Stan Fields. Fields acknowledged, however, that the board did not discuss nor did it vote to establish this time frame at its July 2 meeting. He declined to name specifically who determined the application period.

Though he recognized the window of opportunity for prospective applicants was a "bad time of year," Fields said the board has to be able to conduct its business.

"We're within a month of school starting," Fields said. "We need to get going."

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