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Watch now: Decatur school board votes to release portions of closed session recordings
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Watch now: Decatur school board votes to release portions of closed session recordings

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DECATUR — The Decatur school board voted on Tuesday to release portions of recordings from closed executive sessions held Sept. 8 and 22 and Oct. 27.

"Tomorrow sometime the tapes will be posted to the (Decatur Public Schools) website," said board President Beth Nolan. "There is no need to (file a Freedom of Information Act request). They will be available by the middle of the day on the website.

"As a point of clarification, these are the audio tapes from closed sessions in September and October, portions of audiotapes that were deemed to be open session topics. They'll be up on the website under the Board of Education tab where our other minutes and meeting tapes are located."

The vote was unanimous in favor of release.

The Herald & Review and WAND-TV previously filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the school district seeking the closed session recordings. Those requests were denied and challenges filed. The newspaper also requested emails among senior district staff.

The requests were made in response to complaints the board discussed and voted in closed session to give a $30,000 bonus to Assistant Superintendent Jeff Dase, which would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act. The discussion is allowed under the closed meeting exceptions, but not a vote.

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In response to the WAND challenge, a review of recordings by the Illinois Attorney General's Office resulted in the finding that even though the board did hold an informal vote approving the bonus, the final vote was taken in open session, and any violation caused by the informal vote was deemed moot. 

However, a letter dated March 10 from Joshua Jones, deputy chief of the Public Access Bureau of the Attorney General's office, stated that the bureau found violations of the Open Meetings Act.

Those violations included making changes in its organizational chart to create a new position; attributes the board sought in potential candidates for open positions; whether to proceed with an agenda item and what course of action to take on that matter; and how to prevent a document from being disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. None of those discussions meet the exceptions.

It is those portions of the closed meeting recordings, not the bonus for Dase discussion, that the board will be releasing.

The Attorney General's Office urged the board to make the recordings of those discussions available to the public, though the letter was not a binding resolution, merely advisory.

The board sought to give Dase the $30,000 bonus “for his efforts and accomplishments in FY 2020.” The board voted against the awarding of the bonus at its Oct. 27 meeting. The meeting included 28 people speaking during public participation, nearly all of them against the bonus.

Photos: Decatur public school teacher selfies before classes resume

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter


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