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New board members briefed on risks

Many people are familiar with the humiliation of sending an errant “reply all” email.


Many people are familiar with the humiliation of sending an errant “reply all” email.

But potential consequences for email gaffes just got more serious for Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board newcomers Kim Weaver and Tracy Quattrocki: one wrong click could amount to a legal violation. Such is the life of a public servant.

Board of education members have important responsibilities: managing a budget, setting policies, overseeing administrative staff.

Or, as board member Jerome Summers observed at an orientation meeting Monday evening for Weaver and Quattrocki, “school boards make big breaking decisions that sometimes affect – all the time affect – thousands of lives and, sometimes, millions of dollars.”

The school board serves 6,300 students and approves spending of more than $100 million a year.

The board will officially seat Weaver and Quattrocki at a May 4 meeting, at which time the board will also elect a president, vice president and secretary.

But, perhaps most fundamentally, board members must remain meticulously self aware at a very mundane level.

The classic “reply all” blooper, for example, could run afoul of the Illinois Open Meetings Act, which requires public bodies to conduct business in full view.

Social gatherings are a sensitive subject as well.

Nothing prohibits Weaver and Quattrocki from sharing notes over coffee. But if the two newcomers run into a fellow board member at a district function, they are legally required to avoid discussing board business.

That’s because three board members comprises the majority of a quorum of a seven-member board. So three in a room – any room at any time – is an official meeting if official business surfaces in conversation. And meetings require 48-hour public notice.

The law allows public bodies to meet in private –- or “executive sessions” –- for specific reasons.

Those reasons include discussion of personnel decisions, labor negotiations, real estate transactions and matters pertaining to individual students.

But the board may not make any final decisions in private. Also, prior to an executive session, the board must assemble in public, state the reasons for meeting in private, and approve a motion to do so.

The District 65 board typically meets in executive session between 30 and 90 minutes before convening a public session.

The board and its committees have met 17 times since September – 16 of those meetings have included executive sessions, according to agendas posted on the district website.

The board devoted the first portion of its orientation meeting reviewing legal procedures that govern public bodies. But Weaver and Quattrocki’s new colleagues also advised them on a more instinctive, less explicit code of conduct.

“As a cautionary note to the new board members, you will very quickly become very judicious about things you say about people,” Summers said.

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