Former District 113A Board Member Janet Hughes Sues for Access to Financial Info, Meeting Records
The complaint was filed April 28 in Cook County against District 113A Superintendent Tim Ricker and former board presidents John Wood and Lisa Wright.
Updated, 3:52 p.m.
Janet Hughes, a former board member in Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A, filed a lawsuit last month claiming she was denied access to financial statements and recordings of closed meetings during her two-year term in office.
The complaint was filed in Cook County Chancery Court on April 28 against District 113A Superintendent Tim Ricker, former Board President John Wood and current Board Member Lisa Wright, who was the board president up until the May 2 reorganizational meeting.
Hughes, who lost her bid for re-election last month, claims the defendants have, without legal basis, "flatly refused access to verbatim recordings of closed session meetings, and denied her access to District financial records," according to the complaint.
Correspondence included in the complaints show that district officials, including Ricker and Wood, denied more than five requests by Hughes to listen to recordings of closed session meetings from Feb. 22, 2009 and Oct. 14, 2009, and several dates in between.
"Moreover, plaintiff's requests for information regarding 'accounts payable and checks paid' of the district have been consistently ignored, deflected and stalled," the complaint states.
According to the complaint, Hughes' first request for information was denied by Ricker under the Open Meetings Act, which states that "the verbatim record of a meeting closed to the public shall not be open to public inspection," and that it could only be reviewed by a judge if there were a violation of the law.
Hughes' requests were later denied by district attorneys "for failure to assert a purpose or responsibility which serves as a basis for access to the verbatim recording."
In a phone interview Monday, Hughes accused board members and administrators of "running out the clock" on her term of service in their efforts to deny her access to information.
"It is inappropriate to withhold information from board members," Hughes said. "I felt it was important this issue be brought up in the best interest of the public we serve and all future board members. We need to establish that no one else is subject to this type of treatment."
James Petrungaro, an attorney for District 113A, said his firm received the complaint Thursday. The position of the defendants "is that Mrs. Hughes is not entitled to the records she is requesting," he said.
"It's unfortunate that District 113A has to spend more money defending a groundless lawsuit from Mrs. Hughes," Petrungaro said. "They should be putting their resources to something good, like educating the students of Lemont."
According to the complaint, Hughes is seeking for the court to declare the following policies of the defendants to be illegal—placing the burden on her to show the relevance of her requests, denying her access to recordings of closed session meetings and denying access to the district's financial records.
She is also asking the court to declare that board members are entitled access "to all board and district documents and other information, without limitation, and without having to pursue access under the Freedom of Information Act."
Hughes is also asking the court to place an injunction on District 113A, ordering defendants to produce all accounts payable, including the district file and attorney files, as well as previously requested audio/visual recordings of closed meetings from every month from February 2009 to October 2009.
The complaint asks for "other relief that is appropriate and just, including costs and attorney fees."
In a phone interview Tuesday, Ricker said the district will do whatever they can to fight the complaint.
"This is a lawsuit against the district, and the district will do what is necessary to show that we have turned over all the information required of us under the law," he said.
Although Hughes is no longer a board member in District 113A, the complaint states that "it is necessary in the public's interest that a declaration of board members' rights of access be established to eliminate incentives for other and future officials to delay and evade compliance with board members' legitimate exercise of their duty to inform themselves of district matters."
Petrungaro said the expiration of Hughes' term makes much of the complaint "irrelevant and baseless."
Hughes is also a plaintiff in another lawsuit against District 113A, which was filed in December. She and co-plaintiffs Laura Reigle, Duane Bradley and Louis Emery allege in the complaint that District 113A administrators and board members knowingly participated in illegal fund transfers, financial mismanagement and concealment that cost Lemont taxpayers $12 million.
In both cases, Hughes is represented by Clint Krislov, of Krislov and Associates, and Terrance Norton of the Center for Open Government.