ST. CHARLES – An ethics advisor is investigating whether St. Charles School District 303 Board President Kathleen Hewell and Vice President Nick Manheim violated the district's ethics and gift ban in the way they gathered signatures on their nominating petitions.
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, are running for re-election. District 303 Superintendent Jason Pearson has appointed attorney Stan Eisenhammer to look into the matter following a request by resident Danielle Penman.
Eisenhammer is from the firm Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn LLP, which represents the school district in legal matters. As part of her objections, Penman has 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."
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. Anyone who believes that an individual covered by the policy has violated its prohibitions may submit a written report detailing the incident to the superintendent, who will forward the complaint to the appointed ethics advisor, according to the board's policy.
In an email, Eisenhammer said he is in the middle of the investigation and could not comment further. Penman originally brought her concerns to the Kane County Electoral Board, which dismissed them in January.
Dist. 303 parent Michelle Casile, an administrator for the Facebook page Citizens for D303 Accountability, said she is glad an ethics advisor is looking into the matter.
"We need some clarification on that," she said.
However, she does have concerns about whether Eisenhammer can objectively investigate the matter, given that his firm represents the school district.
"I don't know what the outcome's going to be," Casile said. "Could there have been a little more objectivity put into this process? Yes. But we'll see."
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 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.
Hewell had previously said she was happy with the Electoral Board's ruling.
"For myself, I will continue my best efforts on behalf of the children, community and taxpayers of D-303," she had said as part of a statement.
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."