Politics in Public Education Creates Fear

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I was playing golf last week with a neighborhood friend.  As we walked up to the third teebox he said half-jokingly, “You know they can play pretty rough there in Lyons.  Take me off of your list of blog recipients. I don’t want them coming after me.”  Don’t think I hadn’t already thought about the possible ramifications of criticizing Mayor Getty and his followers.

I’d heard the reports of incidents in Lyons in the past, even before Getty became mayor – have the wrong candidate’s sign on your lawn and get your inflatable Christmas decoration slashed; speak up at a public meeting and have your car vandalized; hateful anonymous comments posted on the local forum Topix; candidates’ signs stolen/defaced.

I’ve had several people email me and offer supportive comments but were afraid to do so publicly because of possible retribution.  What kind of retribution?  Their job in the district could be at stake.  One person shared a story about her family’s restaurant in a nearby community.  The restaurant was to host a fundraiser for the political opponent of that town’s mayor  – the day of the event the city inspector came and closed them down for violations that had somehow been overlooked in the previous 30 years of inspections.  The former board president shared her story of when she was mayor of Lyons (a long time ago) and she was fighting to close the strip clubs that once lined Ogden Avenue through town.  She found a dead fish wrapped in newspaper on her front porch (á la “She sleeps with the fish.”)

Do I really think someone will come out and vandalize my house (or my golfing partner’s house)?  Not really.  But when I go to the board meeting tonight I will park my car in a remote place.  I will walk out of the meeting with somebody else along side.  And I will continue to write about Mayor Getty and his four henchmen board members.

Graphic courtesy of www.hikingartist.com

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How To Buy A School District – With Other People’s Money

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As previously reported Mayor Chris Getty was able to “buy” the $30 million Lyons Elementary School District 103 for $11,512.  He did this by getting five of his henchmen to run for the school board and then created the Parents for Student Excellence Political Action Committee (PAC).  He funneled money through his own two PACs to the Parents for Student Excellence, which then used the money on PR to ensure everyone in the community knew how bad the school district was and how good his henchmen would be at fixing it.  So where did the $11,512 come from?  Let’s follow the money:

The Parents for Student Excellence brought in funds from five sources:

  • Citizens for Christopher Getty – $11,317
  • United Citizens Party – $975
  • Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski – $975
  • Reliable Materials Lyons – $500
  • Stars & Stripes – $500

Citizens for Christopher Getty and United Citizens Party are both controlled by Mayor Chris Getty.  His campaign war chests were the primary source of funds for his henchmen’s election campaign.  Reliable Materials is filling the limestone quarry at the corner of First Avenue and Ogden.  They give a lot of money to Mayor Getty’s PACs on a regular basis.  Jeffrey Tobolski is the mayor of McCook, one of the communities the district serves, and is a Cook County Commissioner.  Stars & Stripes is the printer Getty uses for flyers.  Note no money came out of the pockets of Mayor Getty or any of his five henchmen.

Where did the Citizens for Christopher Getty‘s money come from?  During the first quarter they brought in $59,876 from 84 various contributors including the same Reliable Materials ($5,000), Jeffrey Tobolski ($1,000, which is double of what he usually gives Getty) and Stars and Stripes ($500).  Odelson and Sterk, the Village of Lyons’ law firm and the firm Getty’s henchmen will force the school district to use gave $1,600 in “in-kind” legal advice.  Speaking of those who work for the Village of Lyons, they give generously to Getty’s PAC, too – Frank Novotny & Assoc. gave $2,500 (the village awarded this Civil Engineering firm $805,000 in contracts in March) and Mackie Consultants (Consulting Engineering Firm for the Village gave $2,500).  Lots of other local businesses in the area also gave to Getty’s PAC.

The United Citizens Party only brought in $2,824 during this period.  Reliable Materials gave $500.  Frank Novotny & Associates paid a printing bill from Stars and Stripes of $1,624.  “Mooncotch” gave $200 and state Rep. Michael Zalewski’s PAC kicked in $500.

So that’s a lot of numbers.  Here are some takeaways:

  • Mayor/Commissioner Tobolski fully supported Mayor Getty’s takeover of the school district.
  • Odleson and Sterk’s law firm consulted with Mayor Getty (presumably on how to take over the school district) and charged off $1,600 to do it.  Once hired they will be receiving an estimated $100,000 per year in legal fees billed to the school district.
  •  Stars and Stripes donated $1,000 to two of the PACS.  They were paid $7,754 to print flyers for Getty’s candidates.
  • It’s likely many of the school district’s vendors will be donating to one or both of Getty’s PACS in the future.
  • Parents for Student Excellence had $2,569 in their PAC at the end of March – that’s a good start on a war chest for the next school board election.

Some final thoughts: Nothing documented above is illegal.  It’s the way of doing business not only in Lyons but in a lot of communities.  But it is new to the Lyons School District 103 and it’s unlikely now it will ever go away.  We read about hedge-fund managers and other gazillionaires trying to get their clutches on some of the $1.1 trillion spent on public education each year.  You don’t have to be a gazillionaire to control a school district – $11,512 was all it took to convince a majority of voters that Mayor Getty should be running the schools.  I think other mayors will take note – soon “public education” will be a little less “public” and a lot more “political.”

All figures were taken from the Illinois Board of Elections website and were rounded to the nearest dollar.

How to Buy a School District

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The Lyons Elementary School District 103 was recently purchased for $11,512.  The district, serving 2,600 students in west Cook County, has an annual budget over $30 million.  What a great deal!

How the school district was bought:

The mayor of one of the five communities the district serves, Chris Getty, decided he should be running the district.

Mayor Getty got five of his henchmen to run for the school board.

Mayor Getty helped the henchmen form the Political Action Committee (PAC) Parents for Student Excellence on 2/24/15.  It’s unusual to form a PAC for school board candidates – even in the Chicago area!

Three days later Getty’s own two PACs United Citizens Party and Citizens for Getty each gave Parents for Student Excellence $975 as seed money.  Why such an odd number?  Because the Illinois Board of Elections must be notified within two days of any donations over $1,000.  $975 keeps it under the radar.

Citizens for Getty hid more expenditures as “in-kind contributions” until after the election.  A few days before the election they spent $10,341.95 on “in-kind” printing and mailings on behalf of Parents for Student Excellence.

Not one of the five board candidates gave a penny to Parents for Student Excellence.  Nor did they bother to show up for the League of Women Voters’ candidate forum.

In addition to the $10,341.95 of “in-kind” contributions Parents for Student Excellence spent $1,169.82 on pictures of themselves (for a flyer) and a mailing service.  The PAC spent at total of $11,512.

So what did they spend it on?  They sent out flyers and emails telling the residents that the district was “in disarray,” students got “bad test scores” and that the current board engaged in “wasteful spending.”  (Riverside-Brookfield Landmark)

The PR blitz worked – four of the five henchmen were elected to the board of education.  And Mayor Getty has given them their first marching orders: fire the interim superintendents and hire his political-buddy as superintendent, fire the district’s law firm and hire the mayor’s law firm.  More firings and political hirings will come.

So that’s how you buy a school district for $11,512 – enter your own board candidates (but keep them out of the spotlight), fund their campaign with money from your PAC, use smear tactics against the other candidates, and count the votes on election night.

All figures were obtained from the Illinois Board of Election’s website.

Thanks again to the great reporting by Bob Uphues at the Landmark and his story about campaign funding.

Next time: Follow the Money – where did the money for the three PAC’s come from?

Hostile Takeover – Delayed!

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Mayor Chris Getty of Lyons doesn’t think things through very well.  Granted, he got four of his henchmen elected to the Lyons Elementary School District 103 (Cook County, Illinois) board of education in April by funding their election from his own campaign war chest.  It’s amazing what you can buy with $11,512 – a whole school district!

So the henchmen were scheduled to be sworn in on May 4th according to Illinois School Code and District 103 school board policy.  But Mayor Getty couldn’t wait – he had the village’s attorney “swear in” his henchmen as school board members (will the village of Lyons or School District 103 will be billed for attorney Odelson’s time?).  Then Mayor Getty had his flunky assistant post a school board meeting agenda on the doors of District 103’s Administrative Building.

The agenda announced a previously unscheduled school board meeting at 6 PM Thursday, April 30th in District 103’s Administrative Building.  Nobody except Getty, his attorney, and the four henchmen recognized the legality of the agenda.  Anticipating trouble (Getty’s goons are not known for their civility) the Admin Building was vacated early Thursday afternoon.

According to eyewitness reports, at 6 PM Mayor Getty and about 50 of his followers showed up at the Administrative Building only to find the building closed.  Imagine that – the building wasn’t open to host an illegal meeting!  They were incensed!  Mayor Getty spoke to his people about how unfair it was that his henchmen couldn’t meet (to fire the interim superintendents, hire Getty’s political friend as interim superintendent, fire the district’s law firm, and hire his village’s law firm).  He was so incensed that he encouraged his followers to bombard the school board meeting on May 4th.

So what did you expect, Mayor Getty?  You ignore School Code and school board policy to schedule a meeting and expect to be welcomed there with open arms?  Did you really expect the doors to be open, the seven existing board members to be in attendance, the board’s recording secretary ready to take minutes?  You couldn’t wait four days till your henchmen were legally sworn in to start the patronage?

Four days isn’t very long to wait, but it’s all the staff members in District 103 have under the district’s old philosophy – be of service to children.  After Monday the philosophy changes – be of service to Mayor Getty.

Hostile Takeover of School District

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The mayor of Lyons attempted a hostile takeover of the Lyons Elementary School District 103 today.  Mayor Chris Getty (not to be confused with Ken Getty, his ex-felon, ex-mayor father) bankrolled four of his henchmen during the recent school board election.  Now they’re trying to take over – illegally.

Some background:  I retired as superintendent from District 103 almost three years ago.  District 103 serves students in five communities – Lyons, Brookfield, McCook, Stickney and Forest View.  Four years ago Mayor Getty of Lyons walked into our district office with petitions for five school board candidates.  Thanks to the tireless door-to-door campaigning by the incumbent board members, only one of Getty’s candidates was elected.  This year he again presented the district with five nominating petitions.  Then Getty arranged for over $11,000 in donations from his United Citizens Party and Citizens for Christopher Getty to be transferred to his henchmen’s campaign coffers.  It was reported that during their campaigning there were promises of jobs in District 103 to those who voted for the henchmen.  On April 7th four of his henchmen won seats on the school board – Getty’s henchmen would have a majority of the seven school board seats.

The first sign of trouble began last Wednesday when a woman walked into the district office and told the receptionist that she wanted to apply for the reception’s job.  The woman inferred that Mr. Getty prompted her to apply.  Moral in the district plummeted – no one knows if they are going to have a job after next week.

Needless to say, none of Getty’s henchmen had ever been to a school board meeting before the election.  According to State of Illinois law, the four were to be sworn in on May 4th.  But Mayor Getty couldn’t wait that long.  So on April 28th he had the village’s politically-connected lawyer Burt Odelson meet with his four henchmen.  Nobody knows when and where they met when Odelson swore them in as school board members – contrary to state law and school board policy.  Then, presumably, Getty and/or Odelson gave them a school board meeting agenda to approve.  Aside from the fact that even calling themselves “board members” at that point was preposterous, didn’t someone care that agreeing on such an agenda would have been in violation of the Open Meetings Act?

Getty hands the agenda to his flunky assistant Kyle Leonard to hand deliver it to the interim superintendent Patrick Patt (the superintendent announced her retirement at the end of March).  Patt was told by the flunky, “Here, this is what you need to do.”  Patt understood that as a direct order – post this agenda.  Patt did not post the agenda, realizing that the four henchmen had no legal authority as board members (the Attorney General’s office agrees).

Flunky Leonard came back to the district office after-hours and taped the agenda to the front door.  He went over to the current school board president’s house and taped the agenda to her mail box.  None of the other six current board members were informed about the meeting.

Their agenda calls for a school board meeting on Thursday, April 30th.  The agenda calls for the board to:

  • Fire the two interim superintendents
  • Hire Kyle Hastings as interim superintendent (Hastings is mayor of Orland Hills and was ousted mid-year as superintendent of Bellwood.  He’s a political buddy of Getty.  Its unlikely that any of the newly-elected board members have even met Hastings, yet they are going to make him the superintendent).
  • Fire the district’s legal firm of many years, Robbins-Swartz, which specializes in education law.
  • Hire the law firm Odelson & Sterk (yes, the same Odelson as above) which specializes in municipal law.
  • Change when the school board meetings take place (regardless of when the other board members can make it)

Nobody knows what will happen Thursday night when the four board member-elect henchmen show up at the district office to convene the illegal meeting.  They may have to wait until May 4th to be legally seated.  When they are the purpose of the board of education will no longer be to oversee the education of the 2,600 students in District 103.  The purpose will be to hire whoever Mayor Getty wants and to buy goods and services from whoever Mayor Getty wants.  That will only mean less for the children of District 103 and more for Mayor Getty.

Some of the above information was obtained in Bob Uphues’ excellent article published in The Landmark.