AG says District #50 Violated OMA
Failed to Inform Public of Leitzen Settlement
By Jeff Egbert
The Illinois Attorney General Public Access Bureau has found that Pinckneyville’s District #50 School Board violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA). On September 19, 2013 following an executive “closed” session at District #50’s regular board meeting, the school board adopted a resolution to rescind the notice of dismissal of Matthew Leitzen and then also accepted his letter of resignation as presented. The board then accepted, “the resolution of a settlement agreement of Leitzen as presented in executive session.” The board members voted in favor in each instance, with the exception of Scott Carney. Carney voted “no” on all three items. No further information regarding the nature of the settlement being considered was mentioned at the time of the votes.
Following the September 19 meeting, the Press asked Superintendent Tim O’Leary for a copy of the resolution and was told at the time, the Press would have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request to receive the information just voted on, but not disclosed in the public meeting. The Press filed the FOIA with O’Leary following the meeting and pointed out that there may be a problem with the action taken since the details of the settlement were not disclosed publicly prior to the vote. In the Illinois Open Meetings Act, when discussing final action being taken at a meeting, under “General Provisions” (Text of Section from P.A. 98-63) Sec. 2. Open meetings(e) Final action, the law states: “No final action may be taken at a closed meeting. Final action shall be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that will inform the public of the business being conducted.”
District #50 initially denied the FOIA request, but the school district finally disclosed the details of the settlement agreement to the Press a full twenty-one days after the original vote, following a Request for Review in the matter by the AG’s office. The settlement agreement stated that, “The Board shall pay to Leitzen the gross amount of twenty-eight thousand eighty-one dollars and seventy-eight cents ($28,081.78).” Additionally in the agreement, the board also agreed to give Leitzen a clean work history, letter of recommendation & unemployment eligibility.
Following a review of evidence from the meeting, the AG found that the board did not conduct any final action in the closed portion of the meeting. Although the AG did state, “Because all substantive discussion concerning the settlement agreement occurred in closed session, this office concludes that Board violated section 2 (2) of OMA by failing to adequately inform the public of the business being conducted before it approved the resolution authorizing the settlement agreement. To remedy that violation, we request that the Board either disclose to Mr. Egbert and make publicly available the portion of the closed session minutes of the September 19, 2013, meeting which concern the settlement agreement, or reconsider and revote on the settlement agreement after adequately informing the public of the nature of that final action.”
The agenda for tonight’s regularly scheduled District #50 school board meeting to be held at 7 p.m. at the grade school lists an agenda item under new business for, “Ratification of Resolution Settlement Agreement Matt Leitzen.
Leitzen was implicated in the dropping of a threatening note in the hallway of the Pinckneyville Junior High School in December 2012 shortly after the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The Press is currently working with the AG’s Public Access Bureau in an attempt to make public the threatening note and the school’s video surveillance of the hallway where the note was found.
State Board Subpoenas Leitzen
Information from District #50
Press Attempting to Make Threatening Note Public
By Jeff Egbert
Pinckneyville School District #50 disclosed this week that the State of Illinois Educator Preparation and Licensure Board has subpoenaed copies of, “any and all records pertaining to the employment of Matthew J. Leitzen in possession of Pinckneyville SD 50 and the Pinckneyville Middle School including, but not limited to, any personnel files, disciplinary records, and documents, investigation reports, interview notes, statements, settlement agreements, video or audio recordings, testimony or other records or correspondence pertaining to any investigations of Matthew J. Leitzen.” The State Licensure Board has confirmed they have an open investigation of Leitzen that began in October of 2013.
The disclosure of the subpoena came about as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request initiated by the Press. It was included in a letter to the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Bureau explaining why the District has refused to make public a copy of a threatening note found in a hallway at the Pinckneyville Jr. High School in December of 2012 shortly after the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Leitzen was implicated in the dropping of the threatening note. He has since resigned his teaching position at the school and received a $28,000 settlement.
The school district disclosed the subpoena in an attempt to help explain why the district has refused to make public a copy of the note or the video from the school hallway where the note was found. In the district’s explanation for not disclosing the record they state through their attorney Roger Seibert:
“It is the District’s understanding that the investigation by the State Educator Preparation and Licensure Board is ongoing and that the documentation will be utilized in connection with an administrative hearing by that agency to revoke Mr. Leitzen’s teaching certificate.
We would request that Mr. Egbert and your office contact the State Educator Preparation and Licensure Board directly to determine if release of these documents will hinder its investigation or deprive Mr. Leitzen of a fair hearing in the pending administrative proceedings. The District would prefer, in fact, for Mr. Egbert to direct his Freedom of Information Request directly to the Licensure Board which is in a better position to determine the discoverability of these documents.”
The AG’s office responded:
“Thank you for your response to the above-captioned Request for Review on behalf of Pinckneyville School District No. 50. However, the response did not include copies of the withheld records that this office requested in its letter to the District dated January 22, 2014; please clarify whether the District possesses copies of those records; if the District does possess copies, please provide them for our confidential review as required by section 9.5 ( c ) of FOIA (5 ILCS 140/9.5 ( c ) (West 2012)).
In addition, your response requested that this office contact the State Educator Preparation and Licensure Board to obtain information concerning the applicability of the exemption asserted by the District and suggested that Mr. Egbert directly request the records from the Licensure Board. Please note that because this Request for Review concerns the District’s denial of Mr. Egbert’s request, the District rather than the Licensure Board carries the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the records are exempt from disclosure. See 5 ILCS 140/1.2 (West 2012)). The Licensure Board did not deny the FOIA request and is not a party to this Request for Review. However, if the District wishes to obtain the Licensure Board’s input and issue a supplement response concerning the applicability of the asserted exemptions, it may do so.”
The AG’s office has given District #50 seven days to respond.
Woodworth Selected As New Du Quoin State Fair Manager
By Eric Lambert, Pinckneyville Press with information from the State of Illinois Press Release and Carterville Courier
A veteran of the Du Quoin State Fair has been chosen as its manager, the Illinois Department of Agriculture announced today. Shannon Woodworth, 47, of West Frankfort has assisted in the organization of the annual event at the fairgrounds since 1999 when he went to work on a contractual basis for then-manager Sammye Fark.
Keeping the Du Quoin State Fair a "family friendly" event is what Woodworth said he will focus his most attention upon. Woodworth emphasized on the, "Opportunities for families to come on this fairgrounds and enjoy things and participate in things and learn things that they otherwise may not be able to do if the fairgrounds did not exist in southern Illinois." Woodworth supports the chances for families to experience and enjoy entertainment programs that without the fairgrounds, they wouldn't be able to be a part of.
"The Du Quoin State Fairgrounds is an incredible economic engine for all of Southern Illinois," Woodworth said. "I have always been honored to be a part of the great team of dedicated employees who make this engine run. To now be manager of the fairgrounds is, obviously, a great, great honor, but the success here has and always will be a team effort." Woodworth went on to say, "It affects every county in Southern Illinois in one way or another…We've got people coming in from all over the region, certainly the tristate area." He said his experience with the fair has prepared him for the job, which includes troubleshooting during the late summer event. "When you've got 300,000 to 400,000 people coming on the fairgrounds in 10 day's time, things come up," he said. "But it's all for a good reason."
"Shannon is very knowledgeable and passionate about the fair and understands the importance of agriculture to our heritage," Agriculture Director Bob Flider said. "His work has brought hundreds of thousands of dollars in business sponsorships to the fair and I believe he possesses the right skills to ensure the fair remains a showcase for Southern Illinois."
Woodworth is a national award-winning newspaper reporter, photographer and marketing professional, with awards from the Associated Press, National Newspaper Association and the National Council on Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR). In 2003, Woodworth was awarded a Gold Paragon, a top honor through the NCMPR for the nation's 1,200 community colleges. Woodworth also was chosen to receive an Excellence Award from the Center of Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Leadership at John A. Logan College as an employee in the college's marketing department.
As a volunteer, Woodworth has overseen the Black Diamond Harley-Davidson Scholarship Program since its start five years ago, helping to give out more than $250,000 to graduating high school seniors in Southern Illinois.
Woodworth, who grew up on a farm near the Jefferson County community of Bluford, now lives on the West Frankfort Lake. He enjoys hunting and fishing and even created his own bait for catfishing, which he continues to keep a secret.
Woodworth accepted the position of following the resignation of eleven year Du Quoin State Fair Manager, John Rednour Jr. Rednour had announced that he would step down to take on the role of board chairman at the Du Quoin State Bank, filling the vacancy created after his father's recent passing. Woodworth noted that this August marks the ninety-second year for the annual Du Quoin State Fair.