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It’s all about the timing

Dispute over Mullen’s possible conflict of interest should have been resolved long before election

Published: Friday, June 28, 2013 9:37 a.m. CST

Timing, as they say, is everything.

When timing is on your side, it gives the appearance that everything is happening as it should and with a purpose. When timing is off, it casts a shadow on simple situations, making it seem as if things are in disarray and working against the common good.

In the end, timing is what makes Minooka Community High School’s investigation into newly elected board member Michelle Mullen so questionable.

Mullen, a single mother who was elected to the District 111 Board of Education in April, has been thrust into needless controversy recently as the result of suggestions she has a conflict of interest due to being a tenured teacher for the Grundy County Special Education Cooperative.

MCHS is one of 12 member school districts in this co-op.

Superintendent Jim Colyott says the district is now seeking to determine whether her position in the co-op presents a conflict of interest with being an active board member with Minooka Community High School.

“That’s the question,” he said. “We are trying to seek to ensure she is not in conflict.”

Voters of any taxing body should be supportive of any effort to make sure prospective board members do not have significant conflicts of interest that may impact their ability to govern effectively. However, the problem that lingers in this instance is, you guessed it, the timing of when this question was raised.

Candidates who are seeking to run for seats on school boards must have their petitions turned in several months ahead of the date of the election. In this particular case, nominating forms for the April 9, 2013 election had to be turned into the district by Dec. 24, 2012.

This means Colyott and the district had more than three full months to raise the question of Mullen’s “conflict of interest,” but they never did — at least not publicly.

News of the district’s concern about her potential conflict of interest was not brought to the community’s attention until weeks after the ballots were counted. So, if indeed her job was a matter of concern, why wasn’t her potential conflict of interest pointed out to the public earlier, especially if it was to impact their candidate?

As result, the district’s investigation now appears as if the administration is attempting to undermine the voice of the voters, considering Mullen’s role with the Grundy County Special Education Cooperative was far from secret when residents cast their votes in the April 9 election.

For many years, society has preached for Americans to be educated voters. If they are heeding that advice, her role with the co-op, along with her having served in multiple school-related capacities, should have been a key aspect on their minds when voting for or against her.

Since this information was disseminated to the public, including through this publication, we can only determine that voters must have viewed her experience as a benefit. So why would the district decide to raise concern about a possible conflict of interest now?

Colyott believes Mullen could be put in a position where she may have to vote on things that might affect her, such as salaries and benefits. Her attorney, John Izzo of Sraga Hauser, on the other hand, says nothing Mullen does as a school board member would influence her employment as a tenured special education teacher with the co-op.

“She’s a tenured teacher and that’s not going to go away,” he said.

Izzo, in fact, said there are other situations similar to Mullen’s that are more egregious, but the Attorney General has determined them not to be a conflict of interest. And, when you start looking closer, voters don’t need to search very hard to find local board members like Mullen who have potential “conflicts of interest.”

The underlying point of concern, though, is the division seemingly created on the board as result of the election’s outcome. In fact, the district was fielding objections in May, even before the newly elected board members were seated.

On May 2, incoming board member Mike Brozovich spoke to the outgoing board about how they were proceeding against the Illinois Association of School Board guidelines by taking business action prior to the seating of its three new board members — one of which was Mullen. Despite Brozovich’s comments, the outgoing board then approved the hiring of John Burke as the district’s director of business and finance, a position that obviously carries significance in the district.

“I am very disappointed in the way the current board is running the reorganizational meeting,” Brozovich said during the meeting. “I was elected to a four-year term; we have legal liabilities to the state of Illinois, not to mention a moral commitment to the community.”

Interestingly enough, Brozovich was later voted to become the board’s new president by a 4-3 decision. He replaced Chris Kobe, who is still seated on the board.   

Considering the very public disagreement, one has to seriously question whether the district’s delayed investigation into Mullen’s job status is possibly connected to this battle for power.

If it is determined that Mullen’s job is a conflict of interest, then her seat will likely be opened for the board to fill by appointment. That means an equally divided board — not the voters — would be faced with voting in the next board member.

When community members put all these pieces together, they amount to major concerns for a district facing a $2.1 million deficit by 2014. These concerns then leave us wondering about how all of this in-fighting is benefiting our school district — and, more importantly, our students.

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The Morris Daily Herald’s editorial decisions are made by an editorial board lead by General Manager Bob Wall and editors Patrick Graziano and Mark Malone. Decisions are made in consultation with other members of the MDH staff as appropriate.

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