By Terry Dean
In a surprise announcement, District 200 school board member Jacques Conway announced last week that he's resigning from the Oak Park and River Forest High School board.
The two-term trustee also urged his fellow members to appoint former board member John Allen, who lost a bid for re-election on April 5, as his replacement. Allen told Wednesday Journal the day after Conway's announcement that he would accept an appointment if offered.
Conway, 49, was elected to the school board in 2005 and again in 2009. He announced his resignation during the board's May 26, regularly meeting. Conway said he's unable to devote the time needed to continue serving on the board. His resignation took effect immediately following the conclusion of last Thursday's meeting.
Listen to audio of Conway's resignation.
He's leaving to focus on his position as director of a South Side Chicago nonprofit that helps youth. But he's also stepping down to deal with a personal financial matter involving his River Forest home and other properties that he and his wife own. Conway said he originally intended to resign last fall but decided to stay on until after the April election.
An emotional Conway explained that those properties now belong to U.S. Bank. Conway had a commercialized loan against the properties with Park National Bank but that deal fell through when U.S. Bank absorbed Park National in late 2009. Conway also worked at Park National but lost his job, along with many other employees, after the takeover.
The properties, he said, were used as collateral for a loan taken out on a building on the South Side of Chicago. Conway and his wife bought the building through their nonprofit organization and planned to use it as a job and business development center. Park National, Conway explained, had financed a short-term loan taken out on the building to be used for renovation.
"Several months before Park National Bank was taken over by the FDIC, and before the paperwork for the new loan was completed and submitted to the bank's owner who agreed to OK the deal, U.S. Bank called for full payment of that loan," Conway said, reading from a statement. "At the time that the demand for full payment of the loan was made, all of our loans were current. My wife and I were not in a position to write a six-figure check to U.S. Bank."
Conway said U.S. Bank at first was going to foreclose on the properties, including his River Forest home, but agreed to allow his family to remain until a buyer surfaces.
"I appealed to the chairman and CEO of U.S. Bank, Mr. Richard Davis; I asked Mr. Davis how could his bank within several months fire an employee and then threaten to make that same former employee and his family homeless?" Conway said.
With his household situation unsettled, Conway said he and his wife decided to pull their son, who's currently a junior, out of OPRF and enroll him in another school out of state, not wanting to disrupt his son's senior year given the family's uncertain situation. His wife was also able to find work in that state.
After his announcement, his fellow board members gave Conway a standing ovation. Board President Dietra Millard then spoke of Conway and his time on the board.
"It's an understatement to say how much you'll be missed. Your perspective is unique; it is irreplaceable," she said.
A River Forest resident, Conway is a former Oak Park police officer, OPRF school resource officer through the department, and a former on-staff residency officer. He was also a substitute teacher and coached at the school.
In 2006, Conway became the first African-American Oak Park police officer to reach retirement, having served on the force for 22 years. An ordained minister, Conway is pastor of Neighborhood United Methodist Church in Maywood, and previously ministered at a church in Englewood on the South Side.
John Allen, who spoke by phone last Friday with Wednesday Journal, said he would accept an appointment to rejoin the board if that were to occur. He also praised Conway as a "voice on the board that everyone listened to."