Welch settles libel suit and other District 209 news

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By JEAN LOTUS

Proviso Township High School District 209 School Board President Emanuel "Chris" Welch agreed on July 24 to pay an unspecified amount to settle a civil lawsuit for libel that he had earlier tried to bill to the district.

The 2007 case against Welch was originally filed by attorneys Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk, of Odelson & Sterk Ltd., LLC. The suit accused the then-unknown author of the blog "Proviso Insider" of libel and slander in a post claiming that "Mark Sterk was the attorney advising SD89 Board member Ric Cervone on how to lie to a grand jury." The post then asked, "Are Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk crooks?"

Data forensic tests linked the blog posts to Welch's work computer.

The two parties negotiated an original settlement of $400,000 along with $50,000 lawyers' fees.

Welch attempted, in April 2011, to have D209 pay the settlement as well as ongoing legal bills, which was blocked by the state-appointed Financial Oversight Panel.

Since then, Welch had been working with his lawyers to offer a modified settlement. Last Tuesday, Welch's lawyer Ed Ordonez and Odelson's lawyer Michael Wall agreed to unspecified terms.

Welch is the unopposed candidate for the Illinois State Rep. 7th District race in November.

Oversight panel examines legal fees

The D209 Financial Oversight Panel advised the school board to cease paying two private attorneys each a $3,500 monthly stipend for work as hearing officers at their meeting July 24. Michael Castaldo and Brian Carey are assigned to determine residency and oversee disciplinary hearings of students.

"We're trying to stop those contracts before the school year starts," said Chairman James Popernik.

The panel also recommended that the high school board investigate hiring in-house counsel for routine legal work. The district currently outsources legal work to Del Galdo Law group, which was paid $305,518.50 for legal work in 2011, according to www.openthebooks.com, a school expenses watchdog site.

"We're pressing down for a plan that encompasses in-house counsel and hearing officers," said Popernik.

New community member on the panel

One of two new community members placed on the panel was introduced: Kenneth Walls, a 69-year-old Broadview resident who works as director of Security Operations for IFPC Worldwide, Inc. in Chicago, a private security firm. Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Christopher Koch appointed Walls and Robert Montgomery as community representatives, following the ISBE's upgrade of the finance panel to a "1H" status, which gives it more powers granted by the Illinois Legislature.

Montgomery did not attend the first oversight panel meeting.

Residency investigation contract not approved

The panel also failed to approve a $25,000 contract with National Investigations, which has investigated student residency for the past year. Because the panel was short one member, the 2-2 vote was insufficient to reach consensus, and the contract failed to pass.

The Financial Oversight Panel meets next on August 28 at 1 p.m. at PMSA.

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