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Residents ask District 303 school superintendent to appoint ethics advisor

Questions arise regarding St. Charles School Board President Kathleen Hewell and Vice President Nick Manheim

St. Charles East High School building
St. Charles East High School building

ST. CHARLES – Residents continue to question the ethical behavior of St. Charles School Board President Kathleen Hewell and Vice President Nick Manheim.

During the board's Jan. 14 meeting, resident Danielle Penman requested that District 303 Superintendent Jason Pearson bring in an ethics advisor. Penman had filed objections to the nominating petitions of St. Charles School Board President Kathleen Hewell, who is finishing her fourth term on the board, along with Vice President Nick Manheim, who is finishing his second term on the board. Penman also filed objections to the nominating petition of former District 303 assistant superintendent Rebecca "Becky" McCabe, who is seeking a seat on the board.

"I really question the ability to have a fair evaluation only from just the board members themselves," Penman said, in addressing Pearson and the board members. "I think we need a outside party to look at this."

As part of her objections, Penman alleged that Hewell obtained signatures of sitting board members and obtained signatures on a petition for another candidate, Manheim. She said such actions violated the guidelines established by the Illinois Association of School Boards, which have been adopted by the St. Charles School Board.

According to the board policy manual's ethics and gift ban, members are prohibited from engaging in such political activity as "initiating for circulation, preparing, circulating, reviewing, or filing any petition on behalf of a candidate for elective office or for or against any referendum question."

Michelle Casile, an administrator for the Facebook page Citizens for D303 Accountability, was among others who also spoke about the need for the board to have an ethics advisor. Pearson had been looking at the idea of appointing an ethics advisor prior to the meeting.

As Pearson said at the meeting, he began the process last week. A school superintendent has the power to appoint an ethics advisor to provide guidance to the school board, its officers, and its employees concerning the interpretation of and compliance with the provisions of the ethics and gift ban and the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act.

In dismissing Penman's objections, the Kane County Electoral Board said it does not have jurisdiction to consider violations of outside policies or ethical codes that are not contained within the Illinois Election Code. In addition, the board said it does not have jurisdiction to consider conflicts of interest based on a candidate's employment.

In response to Penman's allegations, Hewell argued to the Kane County Electoral Board that having other school board members sign her petitions and circulating a petition for another candidate was not a violation of the Illinois Election Code.

Penman had also argued that McCabe had a conflict of interest running for the school board because of her employment with the school district and Mid-Valley Special Education Cooperative. She argued that a school board member cannot be an employee of the district.

McCabe submitted documents to the Kane County Electoral Board stating that she is not currently employed by the district or Mid-Valley. She also testified that she currently works for the DuPage Regional Office of Education and North Central College.

Hewell had previously said she was happy with the Electoral Board's ruling.

"We are all pleased that Danielle Penman has failed in her personally motivated ridiculous and false attacks against three excellent candidates," Hewell had said following the hearing. "For myself, I will continue my best efforts on behalf of the children, community and taxpayers of D-303."

In addition, Manheim said he felt "validated."

"I don't believe that my signatures were invalid," he said. "I feel confident that I had the proper amount of signatures required and that they were done correctly."

McCabe also had said she was happy with the Electoral Board's decision.

"I'm looking forward to the campaign and meeting people and talking about what I can bring to the table and to the board and my experiences as a educator," she had said after the hearing.

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