An outspoken critic of the District 209 school board president won a unanimous decision Saturday, allowing her to remain on the ballot for the coming election.
The nominating petitions for Arbdella Patterson were challenged by a political operative of the board president, arguing that because Patterson is an employee at the Suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education she shouldn’t be allowed to serve on the high school board.
During a three-hour electoral board hearing on Feb. 14, Patterson testified to the clerical nature of her job. Board members agreed that though she assists in ensuring that area schools are meeting various state standards, she has no authority over any district or its employees.
“She is not the head of the chain; she is part of the chain,” said attorney Richard Means, who argued unsuccessfully for Patterson’s name to be removed from the April 7 ballot. “She cannot serve in both capacities without having a conflict of interest.”
Means sought to have Patterson scratched from the list of candidates on behalf of Shawnte Raines, who filed the objection to Patterson’s candidacy. Raines, however, is no lone wolf. She circulated nominating petitions on behalf of Chris Welch, who is the incumbent school board president for Proviso Township High School District 209.
It was also revealed during the hearing that evidence meant to bolster Raines’ case was supplied by Welch.
Theresa Kelly, a District 209 board member, had a seat on the electoral board. During the hearing, Kelly inquired as to how Means obtained a pair of documents sent to the school district from Patterson’s supervisors. Means first said that they were given to him by the school district’s attorney, then corrected himself and said they came from Welch.
“It borders on being ridiculous, to tell you the truth,” Patterson’s attorney, Burt Odelson, said of the challenge to his client’s candidacy.
Neither Welch nor Raines attended the hearing.
Odelson has his own history with Welch and is the district’s former attorney. He was fired by the board in 2007. Odelson has filed a lawsuit against Welch alleging that Welch defamed him in statements made on an anonymous blog.
Welch has filed a countersuit alleging that Odelson conspired with a Chicago law firm to have Welch terminated.
Both of those cases are pending in Cook County Circuit Court.
Throughout Saturday’s hearing, members of the electoral board struggled to tie the evidence being offered by Means to the fundamental issue of whether Patterson’s job would put her at odds with the district’s interest, should she win a seat on the board.
Means first called on Patterson to describe her work duties and how often those responsibilities have brought her to District 209. Patterson said she helps conduct compliance checks at schools in suburban Cook County, mainly checking for records at the school that would document infrastructure improvements, employee certifications and the like. She follows a checklist provided by the state, she said, and turns her work over to one of several supervisors at the regional office.
For 19 years, Patterson was an employee at District 209, working to help pregnant students keep up with their studies.
Patterson also said she is a regular attendee at district board meetings. Means asked whether she ever discusses the events of those meetings with others in her office.
“So what? It’s a public meeting,” Odelson said in objection.
Thomas Jackonetty, a member of the electoral board, said that Patterson’s attendance at school board meetings may actually be “laudable,” and asked Means to clarify how this proves a conflict. According to Means, anything relayed by Patterson to her co-workers becomes a report.
“I’m confused as to where the conflict is in having a conversation about the meeting,” electoral board Chairman Michael Davies said.
Means also called Kelli Brown, the human resources office manager for District 209, to testify during the hearing. After several minutes of questioning his witness, Means was interrupted when Davies angrily scolded both sides for eliciting irrelevant testimony. Jackonetty later described Brown’s testimony as “weak and timid.”
A written ruling on the electoral board’s decision is expected this week. Raines will have 10 days to appeal the decision to the circuit court, if she chooses.