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D-304 releases additional info on fired employees

GENEVA – After mediation by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, Geneva School District 304 released the years worked and salaries of three fired employees that officials had initially not provided.

The three names were among 342 released after a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the names of all fired employees going back to Jan. 1, 2010.

In a response, the district provided the names, but not their years worked or salaries as requested.

“The district is not required to produce documents in response to a FOIA,” Superintendent Kent Mutchler wrote. “Therefore, the information in the attached document was compiled and any requested information not included, such as salaries, is not provided, as the district has no documents that show all of your requested information for dismissed employees.”

The Kane County Chronicle had filed a complaint with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s public access counselor on both the district not naming employees fired and not providing the additional information sought.

But after documents revealed there were just three employees recommended for dismissal following a closed session – all the other employees’ names were in meeting agendas and minutes – it was agreed the information would be released on just those three.

Terrie Harrington, a kindergarten instructional assistant at Heartland Elementary School, worked for the district for 17 years and was earning $13,758.86 in the 2012-13 school year, or $13.42 an hour. 

Harrington was recommended for dismissal June 24 following a closed session hearing.

Deborah Regelbrugge, a special education assistant at the preschool, who was fired April 22, was employed by the district for six and a half years and earned $12,518.76 in the 2012-13 school year, or $13.19 per hour.

Daniel Benjamin, a maintenance worker at Geneva Middle School South, who was fired Nov. 28, 2012, had worked for the district nine years and in 2012-13 earned $47,419.97, or $23.25 per hour.

Harrington and Regelbrugge had been identified by the school board in open session as “Employee A” when being recommended for dismissal; Benjamin was referred to as “a specific employee” in open session.

Public bodies can close meetings for specific reasons, such as employee discipline, but action must be taken in open session.

The Open Meetings Act requires that, “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.”

The Chronicle filed a request for administrative review with the Attorney General’s Office, alleging that the Open Meetings Law was violated when school board members did not state the name of the employees being recommended for dismissal.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Olmstead said the office is proceeding with a review.

It was the district’s practice not to name employees recommended for dismissal following closed session, and this was the case for these three, states an email response from district FOIA Officer Kelley Munch.

“If it is deemed by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General that this practice is in violation of the Open Meetings Act, the district will take the appropriate steps to remedy this,” Munch stated. “We strive to be in compliance with state and federal mandates and look forward to the Illinois Attorney General’s opinion on this matter.”

Officials of other local districts said they routinely include the names of employees considered for hiring and firing under all circumstances in their monthly employment reports.

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