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AG says District #50 Violated OMA
Failed to Inform Public of Leitzen Settlement
By Jeff Egbert
The Illinois Attorney General Public Access Bureau has found that Pinckneyville’s District #50 School Board violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA). On September 19, 2013 following an executive “closed” session at District #50’s regular board meeting, the school board adopted a resolution to rescind the notice of dismissal of Matthew Leitzen and then also accepted his letter of resignation as presented. The board then accepted, “the resolution of a settlement agreement of Leitzen as presented in executive session.” The board members voted in favor in each instance, with the exception of Scott Carney. Carney voted “no” on all three items. No further information regarding the nature of the settlement being considered was mentioned at the time of the votes.
Following the September 19 meeting, the Press asked Superintendent Tim O’Leary for a copy of the resolution and was told at the time, the Press would have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request to receive the information just voted on, but not disclosed in the public meeting. The Press filed the FOIA with O’Leary following the meeting and pointed out that there may be a problem with the action taken since the details of the settlement were not disclosed publicly prior to the vote. In the Illinois Open Meetings Act, when discussing final action being taken at a meeting, under “General Provisions” (Text of Section from P.A. 98-63) Sec. 2. Open meetings(e) Final action, the law states: “No final action may be taken at a closed meeting. Final action shall be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that will inform the public of the business being conducted.”
District #50 initially denied the FOIA request, but the school district finally disclosed the details of the settlement agreement to the Press a full twenty-one days after the original vote, following a Request for Review in the matter by the AG’s office. The settlement agreement stated that, “The Board shall pay to Leitzen the gross amount of twenty-eight thousand eighty-one dollars and seventy-eight cents ($28,081.78).” Additionally in the agreement, the board also agreed to give Leitzen a clean work history, letter of recommendation & unemployment eligibility.
Following a review of evidence from the meeting, the AG found that the board did not conduct any final action in the closed portion of the meeting. Although the AG did state, “Because all substantive discussion concerning the settlement agreement occurred in closed session, this office concludes that Board violated section 2 (2) of OMA by failing to adequately inform the public of the business being conducted before it approved the resolution authorizing the settlement agreement. To remedy that violation, we request that the Board either disclose to Mr. Egbert and make publicly available the portion of the closed session minutes of the September 19, 2013, meeting which concern the settlement agreement, or reconsider and revote on the settlement agreement after adequately informing the public of the nature of that final action.”
The agenda for tonight’s regularly scheduled District #50 school board meeting to be held at 7 p.m. at the grade school lists an agenda item under new business for, “Ratification of Resolution Settlement Agreement Matt Leitzen.
Leitzen was implicated in the dropping of a threatening note in the hallway of the Pinckneyville Junior High School in December 2012 shortly after the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The Press is currently working with the AG’s Public Access Bureau in an attempt to make public the threatening note and the school’s video surveillance of the hallway where the note was found.