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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published Sept. 21, 2017

Committee: HMS lawsuit was avoidable

By Pam Lannom

The incorrect publication date last October of a legal notice for the Hinsdale Middle School bond referendum, subsequent lawsuit and construction delays could have been avoided, based on the findings of the district’s bond referendum review and accountability committee.

   A thorough examination of documents uncovered an Aug. 19 letter from Hauser Izzo, Community Consolidated Elementary District 181’s law firm, to Superintendent Don White detailing election procedures, with one of the nine items providing the Oct. 8-28 time frame during which the notice had to be published. White’s office responded Aug. 23 confirming that the notice would be published at the appropriate time. The committee also discovered an Oct. 3 letter to White’s office from the DuPage County Election Commission indicating the notice would be published that week.

   “The administration’s statement in its Aug. 9 summary of this issue that ‘the administration did not receive information from the DuPage County Election Commission about the error prior to the November election and/or in time to remedy the error’ is, in my opinion, untrue,” said board President Jennifer Burns, chair of the committee, at the group’s Sept. 11 meeting. “Based on these facts, it is my opinion that the election commission’s notice error and the resultant litigation could have been corrected or prevented.”

   Burns told The Hinsdalean Monday that the publication error is not her primary concern.

   “The biggest issue for me is not the mistake that was made, but rather the fact that that mistake wasn’t disclosed,” she said. “The board was tasked with making decisions without having complete information because that wasn’t disclosed. That places the board in a potentially compromised position. That piece, to me, is the biggest issue the board needs to discuss and determine how to manage going forward.”

   At the meeting, board and committee member Meeta Patel questioned why the letters from Hauser Izzo and the election commission were not provided earlier when the board had asked many times if there was notification of the error.

   “I feel there was a significant period of time before this information was shared, and it took a little bit of research and extra efforts on the part of many people,” said Patel, citing the 1,500 pages of documents she read as part of the investigation. Legal counsel should have provided that letter to the former board, she asserted.

   The accountability committee was created as part of a settlement with five Clarendon Hills residents who filed suit Dec. 28 saying the election results, which authorized the sale of $53.3 million in bonds to build a new HMS, were invalid because the commission published a notice of the referendum three days too early.
   The committee was charged with investigating errors and omissions that might have occurred regarding the publication and examining half a dozen related issues.

   The committee also reviewed district communication related to revised costs between the failed first referendum and the second referendum, which passed. Burns suggested communication to the board about two changes made to the HMS design to reduce the cost — the use of a lower quality HVAC system and inoperable windows — was inadequate.

   “I don’t believe there was full transparency or disclosure to the board, possibly not even the facilities committee, about what those budget items were,” she said.
Patel, who joined the board in April, agreed.

   But accountability committee member Rich Giltner, who also sits on the facilities committee, offered a different assessment.

   “I felt like I had the information I needed to make a decision or I would have asked for more,” he said. “I don’t feel like things were being hidden from me.”

   Moving forward, Burns said, all decisions must be made by the full board.

   “The board needs to weigh in and needs to approve things,” she said. “They don’t get approved at a committee level, which has been said before but bears reinforcing going forward.”

   Burns told The Hinsdalean the board discussed the personnel implications of the committee’s findings in closed session Sept. 11 and most likely will do so again before its next regularly scheduled meeting Monday, Sept. 25.

   The accountability committee also will meet at 5 p.m. Sept. 25 to discuss a draft of its final report. 

   White said Wednesday he appreciates the work the committee is doing and would like to have more discussions about the process, as one of the group’s goals is to make improvements moving forward.

   “I’m hopeful that I’ll get a chance to engage in that conversation and to engage in some level of conversation around my recollections of what happened and didn’t happen in all of the above,” he said.

   The settlement agreement requires the committee to issue a final report by Sept. 29 and mail that report to the community within 45 days.

   Clarendon Hills resident John Czerwiec said he was shocked to discover that district staff could have prevented the fiasco.

“There is a lack of trust in the community in the board in general,” he said during the public comment session of the meeting. “Whatever it takes to restore that needs to happen.”

   Yvonne Mayer said the board will be expected to take action on what some are calling a cover-up.

   “This is an accountability committee and the community is now going to expect accountability for what has been discovered,” she said.

   Board member Marty Turek, who attended the meeting but does not sit on the committee, noted that three other taxing districts didn’t catch the publication error, either.

   “I’m certainly not going to be a board member or a community member that’s gonna go on a witch hunt to try to figure out what we didn’t do exactly right, because we’re building a great school right now,” he said.



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