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Guest Column: Biondo office-holding controversy
Editor’s note: The following e-mail was sent to our office concerning Ted Biondo’s comments about the Open Meetings Act: “Open Meetings Act hinders transparency of elected boards” and “if elected officials could meet privately without all those pesky ‘bureaucrats’ looking on.”
To Whom It May Concern:
In her guest column [TRRT Dec. 21-27, 2011, issue] regarding Ted Biondo’s comments on the OMA [Open Meetings Act], Mona Marcinkowski stated she didn’t know what had prompted Mr. Biondo’s comments. It is interesting to note that Mr. Biondo’s comments were made immediately after the attached statement was presented to the Rock Valley College Board of Trustees (during the public comments portion of the meeting). …
Michael J. Youngblood
The following statement was made on behalf of the faculty. It was read by Cristina Szterensus (RVC professor of foreign language):
Statement to the Rock Valley College Board of Trustees, Dec. 13, 2011
In 2010, two trustees of Illinois community colleges were forced to resign from their positions. First, Dr. Don Mitchell stepped down from the Board of Trustees of Rend Lake College. Later that year, Donna Kurtz was forced to resign from the McHenry County College Board of Trustees. What do these cases have in common? In each case, the individual trustee was elected to a county board position while already serving on a community college board.
According to Illinois statutes, there are several offices — both elected and appointed — that may not be simultaneously held by a single individual. Specifically, the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act prohibits the simultaneous holding of the positions of county board member and community college trustee. According to that act, holding both offices creates a conflict of duty for two reasons. First, counties and community colleges may enter into contracts with each other. Second, one board may undertake an action that is not in the best interests of the other board.
A reasonable question might be, “Could an individual holding both positions simply abstain from voting on issues that constitute a conflict of duty?” The answer is a resounding “No.” In fact, the very act of abstaining from a vote justifies the view that holding both positions creates a conflict of duty. First, abstaining from a vote is evidence that an elected official is unable to carry out his responsibilities in an impartial manner. Second, elected officials are expected to be the representatives of their constituents. By abstaining from a vote, an elected official deprives his constituents of the opportunity to be heard.
There are three possible remedies when an individual holds incompatible public offices. First, a private individual may ask the person in the incompatible public office to resign. Second, a private individual may ask the first board to which the individual was elected to declare a vacancy. Finally, a private individual may ask the Illinois Attorney General and the County State’s Attorney to bring suit to force the person out of the first position.
Of course, Rock Valley College and the community it serves expects Trustees to hold themselves to the highest legal standards. In light of the current situation and consistent with the examples previously described, the community deserves Mr. Biondo’s immediate resignation from the Rock Valley College Board of Trustees. If a resignation is not offered, then the board owes it to the community to declare a vacancy.
Letters of complaint were sent late last week to the Winnebago County Clerk’s Office, the Winnebago County State Attorney’s Office, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, and the chairman of the RVC Board of Trustees. These letters refer to specific Illinois case law supporting the statute that a sitting county board member may not simultaneously serve on a bommunity college board. These letters may eventually result in the state’s attorney or attorney General bringing suit against Mr. Biondo.
The Rock Valley College community does not deserve to be in this situation. It is a distraction from the amazing achievements of RVC faculty, students, staff and administration. The simple solution is for Mr. Biondo and the other members of the Rock Valley College Board of Trustees to do what is right. Not only is it right, but in the words of former McHenry County College Trustee Donna Kurtz, “it’s the law.”
Editor’s note: In response to a request for an update, Michael J. Youngblood e-mailed TRRT the following: “I did an interview on WNTA last Friday. At that time, Ken Decoster informed me that State’s Attorney Bruscato is ‘looking into the situation.’ That is the only new info I have.”
By deadline, Biondo had not responded to The Rock River Times for comment.
Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato told The Rock River Times: “Yes, we are looking into the matter, and we are looking into more than the statute. We are researching the issue.” Bruscato could not give a timeline for the end of the research, but he did say there had been several citizen complaints and a letter from a Moline, Ill., attorney concerning Biondo holding both offices.
From the Dec. 28, 2011-Jan. 3, 2012, issue