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District 111 school board member may have to resign

MINOOKA – A District 111 Minooka Community High School board member is facing the possibility of resigning her position after a ruling announced this week by the attorney general.

Board member Michelle Mullen was absent from Thursday’s school board meeting when Superintendent Jim Colyott and School Board President Mike Brozovich announced the district had just received a communication from the Illinois Attorney General’s office issuing an “unbinding, unofficial ruling” that a conflict does exist between the employment position of one school board member and a board appoint of the superintendent.

Mullen is a tenured special ed teacher employed with the Grundy County Special Education Cooperative, an organization on which Colyott serves as an executive board member.

The ruling letter, written to Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland, explained the board member may not serve on both the board and as a teacher in the co-op.

The letter stated: “... the employment relationship between a school board member-teacher and the special education cooperative that employs him or her constitutes a prohibited interest in a contract under section 10-9 of the School Code, if the school district which the school board member serves is a party to the agreement that created and governs the special education cooperative.”

The letter was signed by Lynn E. Patton, senior assistant attorney General Chief, Public Access and Opinions Division.

Colyott said after Thursday’s school board meeting that District 111’s lawyer recommended the school board ask for an opinion from the attorney general 10 months ago. The reply was received this week.

Before the ruling, in an attempt to avoid the potential conflict of interest, the school board in a September 2013 meeting asked Colyott to resign from his co-op position. Colyott said he submitted his resignation to the co-op board last fall, but it was not accepted.

Neil Sandberg, director of the Grundy County Special Education Cooperative, confirmed Colyott’s resignation attempt was denied.

“I don’t want to speak on the reasons the board denied Mr. Colyott’s resignation,” Sandberg said Friday, “but the general sense was that Minooka District 111 deserved representation on the [co-op] board. ... There was a sense that the conflict did not reside with our board, but rather with another [District 111] board.”

Muller, who was absent from Thursday’s meeting, said Friday she had no comment at this time on the ruling or on whether she will remain on the board.

Brozovich told the audience that he did not know what Muller’s plans were and that the board would not be able to manage a solution to the conflict of interest until it knew Muller’s plans.

Audience member Missy Ruettiger also spoke on the subject, saying she believed it was unethical for board members who may have suspected it was a conflict to allow Muller to accept her seat.

“You have an obligation, I believe, to speak up,” she said. “ ... I’m not even sure the election we had was legal.”

“It’s unfair to blame anyone but the candidate if they have a conflict,” former board member Deb Warning said during public comment. “I am thrilled about this [attorney general’s] decision.”

• Shaw correspondent Kris Stadalsky contributed to this article.

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