After declaring that a lawsuit to recover thousands of dollars spent by District 209 may be filed, a group of township residents have asked that school board members take specific action to “satisfy their fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of the district.”
In their Jan. 23 letter addressed to the board, four signatories take umbrage with the use of public funds to pay legal fees on behalf of board President Chris Welch. The school district is not a defendant in the defamation suit filed against Welch, and the claims relate to actions he took independently of the board, according to the letter.
“The case involves comments and postings allegedly submitted by Mr. Welch or with his approval on the Proviso Insider blog,” the letter reads. “The lawsuit does not involve his actions as a board member. … It is also our understanding that the board did not participate in maintaining or contributing to the blog and, further, that none of the allegedly libelous comments were authorized or approved by the board prior to their posting.”
Three of the four people who submitted the letter are running for seats on the school board. Della Patterson, Carlos Anderson and Kevin McDermott each submitted nominating petitions to challenge four incumbents hoping to be re-elected in April. Welch’s seat is one of those up for grabs.
Don Williams, a Maywood resident, also signed the letter that was submitted to the board during its Jan. 26 meeting. Williams is State Rep. Karen Yarbrough’s father.
Welch is being sued by Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk, two lawyers whose firm used to provide legal services to the district, for making allegedly slanderous statements about the men on an Internet site. The district is not a party to the case, but since June 2008 has paid almost $58,000 in legal fees on Welch’s behalf.
The Review reported Jan. 21 that McDermott is among a group of township residents who may ask a judge to return those fees to the district. Attorneys with the Chicago law firm Hogan Marren are discussing the matter with McDermott. Patrick Deady, a partner in that firm, would not say whether his office helped draft the letter submitted to the school board.
Patterson read the letter aloud during the board’s meeting and received no immediate response from school officials. It is her hope, she said, that the district issues a reply within a week or two.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Patterson said of the quiet that followed her reading of the letter.
Welch did not respond to requests for comment.
Board member Robert Cox, a Forest Park resident, has voted to pay Welch’s bills each time the invoices have been submitted. He said there is “no proof” that the district shouldn’t be responsible for Welch’s legal costs and that the advice from the school board’s attorney has been to pay.
In the larger context of a school district that has an abysmal academic track record, Cox said the argument over Welch’s right to use public funds for his defense is not a priority.
“There are other really major areas that new candidates could focus on,” Cox said of the petitioners who are also seeking election. “Not that this isn’t important, but there are other things to tackle.”
Patterson denied that she signed the letter to further her campaign, but acknowledged it may “be difficult to explain.”
“I’m trying to educate the public and get the word out there and demand that this stop,” Patterson said.