Monday, April 18, 2016 || Originally for The Forest Park Review || By Kevin McDermott || OPINION
I am responding to the April 13, 2016 article “D209 Board Members Walk Out After Term Limit Battle”. I ran for the Proviso District 209 school board seven years ago, because I believe that D209 badly needs the kind of energy, experience, and integrity that I bring.
The sad condition of Proviso’s high schools, particularly Proviso East and Proviso West, demands the kind of responsible leadership that I have brought to the board since my election in 2009. My decades of experience in industries requiring high levels of integrity and focus — including non-profit charity work, government technology implementation, and management consulting — allow me to carry out my duties as a board member with unwavering fiduciary responsibility to our students, their parents, our school staff and administration, and our fellow community members. I believe this is why the Forest Park Review has endorsed me every time I have run.
But since the election of 2015, the current board president, Theresa Kelly, and her supporters have waged an attack of relentless vilification on me, my reputation, and my motivations through social media, in person, and now in the news media.
In an open letter to her supporters, Ms. Kelly has gone so far as to accuse me (and other board members) of committing the crime of engaging in kickbacks, an accusation that is categorically false, completely unsupported by any factual evidence (Ms. Kelly offered none in her letter), and potentially libelous. This letter can be made available to anyone requesting it.
In the Review article, Ms. Kelly makes a number of other dishonest accusations, including one in which she accuses me of threatening her after a finance committee meeting, when in fact she is the one who made the threat, telling me “I’m gonna beat your ass!” and implying that her adult sons would carry this out. I took this threat of physical violence seriously enough to file a police report with the Forest Park Police Department.
She also reiterates a specious claim that I insulted another board member by calling her a “F–ing Bitch!” Anyone who genuinely knows me understands that I simply do not engage in that kind of behavior.
Furthermore, the person to whom I allegedly said it is fellow board member Claudia Medina. Ms. Medina and her husband are both highly talented musicians who have played in my band, and who, at my invitation, performed with me this past January at the memorial service for my late wife Donna. To claim that I would use this epithet against someone with whom I have had this kind of close relationship is, on its face, absurd.
I said at the board meeting, and I continue to believe, that the proposed change in term limits for the board president’s office is right. Not only does it align the review period for a president’s performance with the annual standard applied to every other board officer and administrator, but at it also directly addresses the continuing dishonesty, divisiveness, and abject failure of leadership of the current board president.
It is worth remembering that one year ago, Ms. Kelly was elected unanimously as board president. Since that time her relentless personal attacks against anyone who disagrees with her, as demonstrated so visibly in this most recent board meeting, have cost her the support of a majority of board members.
Senior administration members have talked about the “hostile work environment” fostered by the board president. The Financial Oversight Panel has also pointed to the “governance chaos” and micromanagement practices of the board president as areas of continuing concern to them.
District 209 faces many pressing problems, most prominently the urgent need for major upgrades to all of our buildings, a task that will require thoughtful discussion, careful planning, and respectful debate. I believe that the current board president is incapable of leading that effort. Her refusal to even allow the term limit policy change proposal to come to a vote demonstrates her obdurate intransigence in the face of actions she disagrees with.
For the good of the district, our students, our parents, our teachers and administrators, and the taxpayers who support us, we need to pass this term limit policy. VFP
Kevin McDermott is a member of the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board.