District 225 paid $156K over complaint
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Updated: September 27, 2012 12:08PM
NORTHBROOK — Glenbrook School District 225 paid attorneys $156,000 to defend itself against claims of wrongfully spending taxpayers’ money leading up to the $94 million bond referendum in 2006.
The payments were made from May 2007 to July 27 when, after five years of litigation, the district agreed to settle non-monetarily with Citizens Organized to Save the Tax-cap.
The citizens group believed the School Board acted as a local political committee by spending more than the $3,000 threshold set in state code for publishing “electioneering communications.”
District Superintendent Mike Riggle defended the legal fees paid to the Chicago firm of Scariano, Himes and Petrarca.
“This had important ramifications for District 225 and for other municipalities,” Riggle said. “We felt it was important for any municipality to inform people about referendum questions.”
After the referendum, the citizens’ group, led by Glenview resident and attorney Larry Miller, filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections against the district and school board for spending public funds on 38,000 two-page campaign mailers.
According to the settlement agreement, the district spent $13,000 to print and mail the newsletters, $5,200 on a video that was broadcast on the school district cable station and $11,700 on time spent by administrators organizing data for residents about the referendum, totaling 150 hours. Another $25,000 was spent to broadcast several related videos on cable television.
Of the 31,338 votes cast, the referendum was approved by 216 votes.
The district issued $94 million in bonds to finance the building of additions and renovations to Glenbrook South in Glenview and Glenbrook North in Northbrook.
Miller said the District 225 trustees spent the $156,000 “in an attempt to cover up their campaign spending of taxpayers’ money.”
He also said COST’s original complaint asked the district to disclose the tax funds spent on information before the referendum.
“The complaint could have been resolved immediately in 2007, at nominal expense, by a simple School District filing and disclosure of its campaign spending,” Miller stated in an email. “The District’s and Trustees’ response for five years has been denial and delay ... .”
The complaint was first filed with the Illinois State Board of Education in May of 2007, naming board member Skip Shein, and former members Donna Rose Torf, Wayne B. Berzon, Steve G. Hammer, William Jeffrey and Elias Metsakis as respondents.
In June of 2007, the State Board’s hearing officer agreed with the respondents, finding that “public funds should not be used in calculating whether the $3,000 reporting threshold had been met.”
In August 2007 the State Board of Elections vote 6-2 to adopt the hearing officer’s recommendations and dismissed COST’s complaint.
COST appealed the decision to the Illinois Appellate Court, which unanimously ruled against the district in May 2009.
That same year, the legislature amended Illinois Election Code to conform with the United States Supreme Court’s decision that before a communication can be considered electioneering it must clearly be an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.
“COST asserts that the legislative changes have no relevance to the Administrative Proceeding; the District argues that the changes are relevant,” court documents said.
The State Board returned to the issue in 2010, urging both sides to settle and admit no wrongdoing.
Two years later, the settlement was agreed upon.