School treasurer resets vote, may still violate Open Meetings

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By DREW CARTER

A teleconference meeting of the Cicero Township Trustees of Schools to discuss sale of a surety bond was rescheduled for today after two of three board members could not be located in time for a Monday afternoon meeting.

Township schools Treasurer Martin O'Connor originally said he would get approval from trustees on the bond sale individually, rather than within the context of an advertised open meeting, because the bond needed to be purchased by Wednesday.

"It's a formality to have the meeting, but it's a requirement," O'Connor said Monday. "Unfortunately the time [available] won't allow me to advertise it."

The surety bond sale is for one-third of a district's bond issuance, O'Connor said. In this case, District 97 is selling $2 million in Life Safety bonds to fund construction projects.

O'Connor said Monday that he had purchased the surety bond, but had not paid for it, waiting for board approval.

The Monday meeting was declared canceled at 2:20 p.m. by Maureen Sherwood, the only trustee on the phone at the time.

O'Connor said he had received approval from Trustee Tom Doherty to sell the surety bond on Friday, and asked for Sherwood's approval Monday. Sherwood said it was fine with her, as long as O'Connor asked board President Robert Burman about the sale.

That wouldn't qualify as an open meeting, needed to conduct final business in Illinois, said Don Craven, an attorney with the Illinois Press Association.

"I'm amazed [O'Connor] has bond counsel who will let him do business that way," Craven said, adding that bond counsel typically prefer members of a public body to vote in person on bond sales.

Craven said the IPA is negotiating with legislators to amend the Open Meetings Act to require bond sales votes to be conducted in person.

The 2:30 p.m. Wednesday meeting likely did not meet the 48-hour requirement to advertise a meeting. When a WEDNESDAY JOURNAL reporter left the trustees of schools office at approximately 2:25 p.m. Monday, no notice or any indication of a Wednesday meeting was made. An emailed announcement of the rescheduled meeting arrived at 5:12 Monday evening.

"They're walking along the edge of a cliff," Craven said, adding that if proper notice is not given for a meeting, any decisions made at the meeting could be set aside by a court ruling, if someone were to challenge the action.

The 48-hour notice is not required when there is a "bona fide emergency" requiring a meeting, Craven said, adding that the trustees of schools' impending bond deadline would not likely qualify as an emergency. "I usually take the position that one cannot create one's own emergency."

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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