The voters and Lake Forest, Lake Bluff and Knollwood and have spoken and today independent candidate Ted Moorman was elected to the District 115 School Board. Thank you to everyone who supported Ted. This is the beginning of a new era for the High School Board of Education. From this day forward we should expect nothing less than transparency and accountability from the District 115 leadership. Congratulations to Ted and the other three candidates on their wins, and congratulations to our community.
Ted’s latest blog post on his campaign site is something that every voter in our community should read. In it Ted talks about his concerns about the culture of the District 115 Board of Education and how they have been operating in recent years. Ted is the only candidate out there talking about these important issues. This demonstrates his sincere interest in bringing accountability and transparency back to our school district. I urge you to read about his concerns. . .
The Lake Forest Caucus sent out a press release today (2013_04-04_Lake Forest Caucus Press Release) in response to my public statements about my concerns regarding Steve Reimer’s conflict of interest. Even though I sent them a copy of my letter, they failed to return the courtesy and I only learned of their testy response from a friend. I guess I really hit a nerve.
When I spoke with Gary Peet on Tuesday evening about my concerns he said respectfully that I was entitled to my opinion. Based on the tone of today’s press release, I guess what he meant was that I’m entitled to my opinion as long as I keep it to myself.
The press release suggests that my public comments are politically motivated and that I have chosen to ignore facts. It even suggests that the comments represent personal attacks. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While I am supporting a specific candidate for District 115 School Board, nothing has been stopping me, up until now, from also voting from Mr. Reimer. But once I learned about Mrs. Reimer’s work as an independent contractor and how it was funded through the school, I had concerns about the ethics of the situation. By my reading of the law and the Board Policy the situation looks like a conflict of interest and a violation of board policy, no doubt about it. I’ve not chosen to ignore anything the Lake Forest Caucus or Mr. Reimer have shared with me; I just don’t agree with them.
The Lake Forest Caucus did their own research and found a 1997 opinion letter from a former Illinois Attorney General about an unrelated case and decided that it supported their position that there is no conflict of interest with Mr. Reimer. I read the same letter and came to a different conclusion. I think that Mr. Reimer has gotten bad advice from the Lake Forest Caucus and that they have put him in an untenable position. I hope that Mr. Reimer has taken the opportunity to get his own separate legal opinion. I know that he doesn’t want to be in violation of Board Policy or State law.
If the Lake Forest Caucus was the only entity vetting candidates then how would we be guaranteed transparency, how would the voters know about situations like this? Happily we live in a free society where other citizens can look at the same “facts” as I have and come to their own conclusion and express concerns.
I have no axe to grind with the Caucus. It’s fine if they source volunteers to serve in public capacities. But I don’t believe that they should have 100% control over who gets to occupy public office in Lake Forest. One party systems don’t really work very well. In some instances they lead to abuses of the people, like in China and North Korea. In this country one party systems lead to complacent voters who don’t examine the candidates or think for themselves. I believe in open contested elections, and may the best man or woman win. Obviously the Lake Forest Caucus feels differently.
Mr. and Mrs. Reimer are both good citizens and I have nothing bad to say about either of them. But in my opinion, their proposed respective positions at District 115 conflict with one another and are against Board Policy and State law. For example, as Gary Peet conceded in our conversation, when the grant funding for Mrs. Reimer’s position dries up, Mr. Reimer would be in a position to influence whether the high school added the position back to its own budget. That’s a conflict of interest. Now that I’ve made others aware of the situation, I hope that they will draw their own conclusions and express their own opinions.
Like the BGA, the Accountability Party is dedicated to better government through transparency and accountability.
Steve Reimer is a candidate on the ballot for the Lake Forest High School District 115 School Board election next Tuesday. Recently I, among others, have raised questions regarding whether or not Steve Reimer is eligible to serve on the District 115 School Board because of a conflict of interest. And conversations with both Mr. Reimer and the Lake Forest Caucus have failed to alleviate our concerns.
The Lake Forest High School Board of Education Conflict of Interest Policy is clear: “No Board of Education member shall have a beneficial interest directly or indirectly in any contract, work, or business of the District unless permitted by State law.” State law is equally clear. Section 10-9 of the Illinois School Code states that a board member shall not be interested, either directly or indirectly, in his or her own name, or in the name of another person, in any contract, work, or business of the school district, or in any sales or purchases of the school district. Similar provisions are found in the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act.
According to District 67 check ledgers and publicly available documents filed with the Illinois State Board of Education, Lake Forest Schools paid Reimer’s wife, Deborahanne Reimer, $32,239 as an independent contractor for Lake Forest High School during 2011-12. Checks for approximately $4,000 each month have been written to her in 2012-13.
To be clear, no one is questioning Mr. Reimer’s credentials or qualifications to serve on the District 115 Board– he should be commended for volunteering to serve. Nor is anyone challenging Mrs. Reimer’s laudable and valuable work battling substance abuse in our school communities. Pure and simple, this is not a matter of politics; it is a matter of ethics. At this time in the history of our schools, ethics must be the foremost consideration in every aspect of the School Board and its work.
As Student Assistance Program (SAP) Coordinator at the high school, Mrs. Reimer is not merely a volunteer but an active staff member – she appears in the online LFHS staff directory and the LFHS Student Services Department directory, she has a LFHS email address and phone number, and she is shown as a staff member on the LEAD and SpeakUp website as the LFHS SAP Coordinator. Oddly, while Mrs. Reimer’s formal title is Tri-District SAP Coordinator, she is not listed or referred to anywhere on the District 67 or District 65 websites.
In addition to being SAP Coordinator at the Lake Forest High School she also serves on the LEAD Board of Directors which pays Lake Forest District 67 to support Reimer’s SAP position at the High School. It’s unclear why school leadership would set up such a complicated arrangement. That arrangement also seems to create a separate conflict of interest.
History has shown that conflicts of interest generally start out small and innocent enough but over time grow until the parties involved become immune or blind to the nature of the conflicts that seem clear to more neutral observers. When conflicts of interest and ethical breaches are uncovered, they can present serious challenges to the community’s trust in the governance process and often generate unfortunate accusations damaging a Board’s credibility. Considering the recent history of our schools, we should be ever mindful as we move forward to err on the side of transparent ethical conduct. Our community has suffered enough in recent years and deserves better.
According to Steve Reimer and the Lake Forest Caucus, they feel that there is no conflict of interest because they claim that Mrs. Reimer’s pay is supported by federal and local grants and not by Lake Forest Schools. And they also claim that no contract exists between Mrs. Reimer and District 115. Yet in the check ledgers (See October 2012 Invoices Paid Page 10) the checks to her reflect payments for contract services. In response to allegations of conflict of interest Mr. Reimer said that he would simply recuse himself from a vote concerning his wife’s position.
The responses from Mr. Reimer and the Lake Forest Caucus miss the point. The mechanics of how Mrs. Reimer gets paid are not relevant and, merely abstaining from voting does not alone cure a statutory conflict of interest. If a conflict exists, it does not make any difference if the contract is fair or even favorable to the district, or if it was awarded pursuant to a public bid.
The heart of the matter is that through Mrs. Reimer’s work, Mr. Reimer has a beneficial interest in a contract in which she is compensated for providing services to District 115, which is a clear and direct violation of Board Policy and State law. And, if elected, he would be in a position to influence the District’s oversight of her position. The Conflict of Interest Policy and State laws are designed to ensure that no board member would find themselves in such a position in the first place.
Fiduciary responsibility is a serious matter and no one should begin school board service with legitimate concerns and lingering questions. It seems shortsighted to not acknowledge the issue head on and resolve it, particularly in light of recent issues in our school board oversight and governance. That being said, there seem to be two reasonable choices at this time. If Mr. Reimer is elected to the LFHS Board of Education Mrs. Reimer could immediately resign her position prior to her husband taking the oath of office in late April. Conversely, if Mrs. Reimer wishes to continue her contract work with Lake Forest Schools, Mr. Reimer should remove himself from the election immediately.
On Sunday, March 10th, the League of Women Voters sponsored a debate among the candidates for the District 67 and District 115 School Boards. It was’t really a debate, more of a forum. The entire event was captured on video, which I have posted below. Here’s an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the candidates. In our opinion, the only candidate really willing to talk bluntly about the issues is Ted Moorman. If you only watch a minute of this video, watch Ted’s closing statement at the 1:34:40 mark.
As you may know, Ted is an independent candidate running for District 115 School Board. This excellent video now appearing on Ted’s website will introduce you to Ted and tell you why he is running for school board. I encourage you to spend six minutes watching it. He’s exactly who we need to elect on April 9th.
The war of words that has taken place this week on Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Patch articles is a perfect example of why Lake Forest High School District 115 needs not just new board members, but a whole new culture. The sniping which ensued after Nancy Thorner published an opinion piece calling into question the ever-increasing costs at the High School demonstrates clearly what so many have been complaining about, that the District 115 School Board lacks transparency, openness and accountability.
Without openness and transparency the local taxpayers simply do not receive enough information to feel comfortable that the Board is being a good steward of the assets entrusted to them. As a result, many local taxpayers have lost trust in the actions and decision making undertaken by this board. And Board member Burgener, has resorted to publically trashing Ms. Thorner, citing her presentations before the Board as “often foolish and misinformed rantings.” Wow. This is conduct unbecoming the position to which he was elected and to which he seeks reelection.
If the board had had a culture that was more embracing of openness and complete transparency in all it does, people wouldn’t be asking these questions, among many others. . .
- How much was really spent on the recent high school renovations? Was it $54 million or $62 million?
- How and why was an additional $8 million debt issue kept quiet and what exactly was the money spent on?
- Why does the District now need another $5 million capital investment for items that it seems should have been part of the renovation completed just a few years ago.
- How could $50+ million construction contract be awarded to a company owned and operated by the family of a current board member ?
- How could the District’s banking relationship be moved to an institution where the Superintendent was a board member of that institution?
- What exactly was the offer by the Diamond Anniversary Campaign to the School Board and why did the School Board turn it down?
When people are asking these kinds of questions, it’s easy to see why there is such a lack of trust in the existing School Board.
On April 9th our community has a tremendous opportunity to elect District 115 board members who can take the culture of our School Board in a new, more positive direction. To overcome the existing insular culture of group-think, the qualities that we should be looking for in new board members are independent thinking, ethics, openness and respect for the opinions of all the constituencies in the community. We all need to get familiar with each of the candidates so that we can assess them against these criteria.
For your reference I include links below to the Patch articles from this week which contain the back and forth commentary between the various parties.
The Chicago Tribune reports today on how mistrust and controversy has spurred independent candidates to run for local school board positions.