Since a split vote in June shelled out more than $22,000 in taxpayer money to cover legal expenses accrued by the school board president, there appears to have been little in-house discussion on the matter.
District 209 board member Theresa Kelly led the charge to deny President Chris Welch’s request, arguing that because the district is not a party to a defamation suit filed against Welch, it is inappropriate to ask taxpayers to fund his defense. Welch, who had the support of both the district’s attorney and the superintendent when he submitted his legal bills, has said it is nearly impossible to separate his official duties from his personal life. Welch has said he is an elected official 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The upcoming board meeting on July 21 will be the first since the 4-2 vote on June 16 authorizing the expense. It will also be the first meeting for newly hired Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart. Collins-Hart witnessed the vote on the legal fees, but did not officially take office until July 1. It was former superintendent Robert Libka who recommended to the board that Welch be reimbursed with public funds.
“I wasn’t going to raise the issue again,” Kelly said of her objections to Welch’s request. “I would hope that maybe some parents would come out and raise the issue again. I’ve reported it and I’m going to wait and see what happens.”
The suburban Cook County regional superintendent, whose office serves as a go-between for local schools and state offices, confirmed that a formal complaint was filed by Kelly. That information was forwarded to the Cook County State’s Attorney and an investigation has been requested, according to Regional Superintendent Charles Flowers. Flowers is a former member of the District 209 board.
Kelly said she has had only a brief discussion with Collins-Hart and she did not press the issue with the new superintendent.
“No, I met her and I just kind of mentioned -she felt awkward at the meeting – that all this stuff is going on in the district,” Kelly said of the encounter.
Welch did not return phone calls seeking comment on whether he has discussed his legal bills with the new superintendent.
Collins-Hart declined to be interviewed, but issued a statement that it would be inappropriate to disclose the board’s meeting agenda prematurely.
Welch is being sued by the school district’s former attorneys who claim that Welch libeled them with statements made on an Internet blog. Those statements were posted to the Web from Welch’s office computer where he worked as an attorney in Chicago, according to evidence filed with the court.
Welch has denied authorship of the alleged statements, but under objection following a court order to answer questions posed by the plaintiff, admitted that he and a colleague at the law office were responsible for the postings. Welch’s co-defendant in the case, Emily Robinson, worked with Welch at James J. Roche and Associates.
Welch has since filed a countersuit against Roche and the plaintiffs in the defamation suit, attorneys Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk, alleging they conspired to have Welch fired from his job at the law firm. According to Welch’s counterclaim, he was fired after the District 209 school board refused to pay padded legal bills submitted to the district by Odelson and Sterk.