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School Board Concludes 'Re-Election' Emails Not Improper

Dec 09, 2014 04:10PM ● Published by Steven Jack

UPDATED TUESDAY, DEC. 9 AT 8:20 P.M.

The following is a statement from Board Member Alison Swanson:

Ultimately the Attorney General will decide if the draft documents should be released.  As the conversation regarded the BOE President, it would have been inappropriate for him to read the statement; hence it falls to the Vice President.  While I did read the majority decision to the public, as an individual board member I have not seen the emails and thus do not have enough evidence to make a determination of an ethical violation.  I am confident that the record will show this belief.  My personal feeling (as stated to those involved) is that the emails should be released to erase any doubt.  

ORIGINAL STORY

The Oswego School District 308 School Board has concluded no ethical boundaries were breached by two board members and the district’s communications director after a September “re-election” email exchange between the three.

A statement was read by School Board member Alison Swanson after a closed-session meeting Monday night during which the email exchange was discussed. Swanson said she read the statement only in her capacity as Board Vice President.

Despite previous ethical concerns about the exchange from at least two school board members, the statement said the board believes there was nothing improper about the email exchange. The statement will be read at a School Board meeting Monday, Dec. 15. 

The emails, which date back to Sept. 8, contain the subject line, “Re-election press release,” include communications between School Board members Brent Lightfoot, Bill Walsh and district Communications Director Brian Graves. The emails were discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request by Only Oswego.

In the emails, biographical information is exchanged between Graves, Walsh and Lightfoot with Graves asking the board members to edit the documents. Graves also asks Lightfoot for a "statement" that he plans to “polish” before sending out with photos. 

Lightfoot and Walsh are both up for re-election in April and both have announced their re-election campaigns.

While the district’s FOIA response includes some attachments, others are missing. The district cited an exemption in the FOIA law that allows drafts of documents to be withheld from requests. 

Lightfoot addressed the issue again Monday night during board member comments, saying he had nothing to hide and calling the matter a distraction.

“I never asked anyone to help with any political document,” he said. 

He has maintained he was asked to provide bio information for a story about the election to be written and released by Graves. That story was never sent to members of the press.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s Office opened an investigation into the matter Nov. 24, ordering the district to release the withheld attachments to the state to determine whether the district had met the FOIA requirements. 

Assistant Attorney General Christopher Boggs said Tuesday the district acknowledged the request Dec. 1, and planned to produce a response in a “timely manner.” Boggs said he expects to hear from the district in the next few days. 

Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis has been contacted by many parents asking for an investigation. However, he has directed those parents to address their concerns with the School District. Weis has not responded to a request seeking additional comment on the matter. 

Parents then contacted Assistant Superintendent John Sparlin requesting an investigation, as Superintendent Matthew Wendt and Assistant Superintendent Paul O’Malley are copied on several of the emails. Sparlin responded to parents in an email dated Nov. 25, saying all such complaints should be directed to Wendt or Walsh.

Education, News oswego school district 308

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