Tag: ShawnTe Raines-Welch

Cook County Chronicle: D209 Board Divided Over Law Firm’s Hiring

Proviso TogetherTuesday, November 10, 2015 || Originally Published: Cook County Chronicle || By Bill Dwyer

Cracks are appearing in the coalition that just this past April took over governance of the Proviso High Schools District 209 board.

Just one week after signing a joint contract with the Robbins Schwartz and Grasso Bass law firms as its new legal counsel, the D209 board will consider an agenda item to rescind that contract.

The controversy arises as Board President Teresa Kelly asked its new legal counsel to review all district contracts.

Board member Brian Cross and Vice President Kevin McDermott say the action is necessary due to concerns about the alleged political involvement of both Robbins Schwartz and Grasso Bass principal Tony Bass, and Bass’s purported lack of educational law experience.

Cross said Saturday that the process felt “very rushed,” and that after he looked further at the new law firms, “It just didn’t smell right.”

Other members of the new board majority, including Kelly, (pictured above center) Secretary Claudia Medina (pictured above right) and Nathan “Ned” Wagner, (pictured above left), say that concern is unfounded and is a blatant attempt to “sabotage” the board’s hiring decision.

Kelly noted that Robbins Schwartz works for “65 school districts” and called them “a pioneer of school law.”

“To try to bring that (firm) down, either one of these (firms) is just wrong,” Kelly said.

Medina, who helped lead the five-month long process for the Request for Proposals that led to the selection of the law firms, said the board approved the new firm’s hiring by a 5-1 vote in late October. A contract was signed Nov. 2.

On Thursday Nov. 5, Cross’ agenda item appeared. Cross is a political loyalist to former board president Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a long-time political ally and supporter of Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico, who has ties to DelGaldo.

Cross called the process “rushed” and said, “I’m not going to get the attorney I want. (But) I just want a fair fight.”

In April, Welch’s three hand-picked school board candidates, including his wife ShawnTe, were defeated by a reform slate headed by long-time D209 board member Kelly.

DelGaldo and Associates applied for consideration in the recent selection process, but did not make the final list.

Medina said the allegation that the selection process was rushed is simply wrong.

“I’m vehemently against a board member sabotaging a five-months long process to hire a law firm. They had five months to research this,” she said.

That process, she noted, included a detailed matrix outlining the standards and qualities sought in a new legal counsel.

“No (non-majority) board member bothered to do any research on this. None,” she said.

McDermott and Cross both insisted there are legitimate concerns to discuss. McDermott said Robbins Schwartz “materially misrepresented the composition of their legal team,” saying the firm’s Bob Riley “assured us that Grasso Bass would play a minor role and Robbins Schwartz would lead the team.”

“During our interview process several board members expressed concern that the tiny law firm of Grasso Bass, whose attorneys have very little experience in school law, were part of the bid. Mr. Bob Riley of Robbins Schwartz, who presented himself as the lead attorney on the Proviso account,“ McDermott said.

“Events suggest that Robbins Schwartz takes its direction from Anthony Bass, not vice versa. This is definitely not the arrangement that many of us thought we were voting on,” he said.

“We specifically asked to not have Tony Bass,” Cross said. “Now we see he’s the main guy.” Bass, he said, “doesn’t have the educational background” needed for a large district like Proviso.

However, Kelly said Anthony Bass would have a limited role, handling only contracts and minority hiring.

Medina said the concerns over Bass’ expertise are the result of a smear campaign that started during his tenure in Thornton District 205.

Edward Crayton served as vice president of the southwest suburban Thornton High School board from 2011 to 2015. He was part of a majority opposed to the practices of then-board president Kenneth Williams, a convicted felon.

Crayton’s new majority brought in Grasso Bass and Robbins Schwartz to correct what he said were a litany of mistakes and overbilling by the previous law firm.

“I found their work to be extremely professional and extremely helpful,” Crayton said of Grasso Bass. “They helped us take a proactive approach to things.”

Of Bass himself, Crayton said, “My experience was nothing but positive.” He accused members of Williams’ board faction of spreading lies about Bass.

“Mr. Bass told them ‘no,’” Crayton said. “From that point it became a smear campaign by some members of the school board.”

McDermott also noted that Robbins Schwartz was part of the recent contracting scandal at College of DuPage, something he says he finds disqualifying.

“Although I am embarrassed to admit this, we did not conduct sufficient due diligence on this firm before selecting them,” McDermott said. “Had we done so, we would have found that they were intimately involved in the enormous financial scandal that erupted at the College of DuPage. The Chicago Tribune singled out Robbins Schwartz as a key beneficiary of the misspent money at COD.”

The Tribune article does not disclose whether the $1.6 million paid to Robbins Schwartz since 2010 (actually, $3.3 million between 2005-2015) was “misspent,” only that a member of the firm served on the college’s foundation board.

McDermott also accused Robbins Schwartz of misrepresenting their involvement in local politics. He and others, he said, “have struggled with the apparent conflict of interest presented by law firms that support slates of candidates in local elections, and the desire of the board was to find a firm that did not engage in this potential conflict of interest.”

“Yet, once again embarrassingly, a bit of too-late due diligence reveals that Robbins Schwartz is actively engaged in this type of activity, to the tune of more than $81,000 over the last span of years.

Medina said that’s just not true, saying, “We checked each of the law firms. They were no large checks like we were seeing with DelGaldo and Chris Welch. They’re trying to make small things look suspicious.”

A review of the political contributions of the law firms applying at D209 shows that all of them contribute politically to a greater or lesser degree, with Robbins Schwartz falling in the middle.

The Illinois State Board of Elections filings indicate that with two exceptions, Robbins Schwartz’s contributions were smaller than DelGaldo, who has contributed $311,080.98 since 2002. DelGaldo gave $9,387.83 to Welch-backed D209 candidates in 2013 and $8,214.14 to Welch’s D209 slate in 2015.

Robbins Schwartz’s largest donations were $10,000 in 2011 and $7,500 in 2000 to a campaign to issue bonds for improvements at Harper College in Palatine. Between 2005 and 2014 the firm made 13 contributions totaling $11,150 to Alsip Citizens for Independent Candidates. And this June it gave $5,000 to Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar’s campaign.

With the exception of a couple $1,000 contributions, the rest of their contributions since 1999 were between $200 and $600, totaling approximately $57,000 to 34 separate campaigns, with no donations to the College of DuPage.

Anthony Bass personally made regular non-major donations to several politicians and political groups between 2000 and 2013, including $5,300 to former Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore, $10,120 to the Chicago 8th Ward Democrats and $10,100 to Todd Stroger.

Kelly said she believed the motive for challenging the new legal counsel was the district’s pending review of district contracts, including all insurance fees and a 2014 no-bid contract worth $5 million.

“I asked the superintendent to direct the administrator contracts and the insurance contracts and all vendor contracts to the new law firm,” Kelly said.  “That’s what I feel they’re afraid of here,” (Bass) is going to come in and clean stuff up. He’s known for it.”

Wagner, who opined, “What I want is to stand by our choice,” said that however the board proceeds, it needs to be deliberate.

“Robbins Schwartz and Grasso Bass have not done anything to merit rescinding their contract,” he said. Noting that the board worked in “a reasoned and measured way together” to select the two law firms, Wagner said the board needs to do the same with Cross’s request.

“We’re going to pull that item from the consent agenda and we will discuss it in public,” he said. VFP

In Wake of Triton Trustee Opening, is Maywood Demanding Representation on College’s Board?

Triton headshots

Sanchez, Hoskins and Raines-Welch. School Board Focus West

Wednesday, July 8, 2015 || Originally Published: School Board Focus West || By Jean Lotus

A seat on the Triton College board of trustees has opened up, leading to speculation amongst local west-Cook politics watchers as to who will be appointed to fill the vacancy.

The community college is also on the hunt for a new president, after the retirement of Patricia Granados.

In April Forest Park Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz walked away after just two years — and the resignation was announced during the June 16 board meeting.

Moritz told the Forest Park Review  she “just didn’t really like it” and, “It just really wasn’t right for me.” The Triton board has 60 days to fill the empty seat.

Political guessing abounds as to who will be chosen to fill the slot.

Membership on the Triton College Board of Trustees — under the helm of President Mark Stephens for the past 23 years — has been considered a political balancing act between Rosemont’s Stephens clan and Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico, Sr.

The two pols have a long history with the River Grove community college. Stephens has served on the board for almost three decades, and Serpico’s father, Ralph “Babe” Serpico was one of the founders of the school in 1964, and served on the first board of trustees.

Outgoing  trustee Moritz, who is Forest Park’s mayorally appointed village clerk, was Calderone’s representative on the Triton board. Whomever is appointed would serve out Moritz’s term and then run again in 2017.

Some Forest Parkers are predicting former Forest Park Village Commissioner Rory Hoskins may be appointed. Hoskins served two terms as commissioner, and showed he had bigger political ambitions when he lost a 7th District run against Emanuel “Chris”  Welch by a handful of votes in 2013.

This past April, Hoskins suddenly threw his support at the last minute behind incumbent Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone, who squeaked into a win with just over 100 votes.

While Calderone’s political prestige beyond Forest Park was dulled by his being unable to deliver a strong local vote for the Serpico-backed Proviso Township High School District 209 school board slate, he still likely has Serpico’s ear and might be able to advocate for Hoskins.

Other observers think ShawnTe Raines Welch, attorney and wife of Chris Welch, may have the seat waiting. Raines Welch, of Hillside, headed an unsuccessful slate of candidates that lost badly in a school board race for D209, in the process costing Serpico control of the school board.

Welch and his wife have been longtime allies and political contributors to and beneficiaries of Serpico, but the most recent school board loss may have strained those ties.

Still others believe Maywood political forces may be demanding representation on the Triton board behind the scenes. A possible candidate may be Antonio “Tony” Sanchez, who owns Mariella’s Banquets in Maywood with his father. Sanchez formerly lived in Forest Park, and was voted in as commissioner on the Maywood Park District, but was disqualified because he had not been a resident long enough. Sanchez donated $400 to Ron Serpico’s campaign in 2013.

Still others think the slot may go to someone closer to the Rosemont crew: Possibly a nominee suggested by 9th District Cook County Commissioner Peter Sylvestri. Triton Board Secretary Diane Viverito lives in Melrose Park, but has been an executive secretary for Sylvestri for decades.

The Triton District 504 feeder community  is composed of 25 towns between Rosemont and Riverside north-to-south and Oak Park to Berkeley east-to-west.

Current trustees are:

•Chairman: Mark Stephens, Rosemont;

•Vice Chairman Donna Peluso, Melrose Park

•Secretary, Diane Viverito,  Melrose Park

•Luke Casson, Oak Park

•Glover Johnson, Oak Park

•Elizabeth Potter, Brookfield

• Student Trustee: J. Gustavo Munoz.

Anyone interested in being considered for a trustee position should submit a letter of interest and resume to Susan Page, Secretary of the Board of Trustees, Triton College, Office of the President, Building A, Room A-301, 2000 N. Fifth Avenue, River Grove, IL 60171, by July 16. VFP

Analyzing Campaign Cash in D209 Board Race

Children FirstFriday, April 17, 2015 || Originally Published: School Board Focus West || By Jean Lotus 

A grassroots campaign of motivated volunteers, many from Forest Park, toppled a 15-year majority on the school board of Proviso Township High School District 209 this April. How did it happen? Campaign contributions to the political committees of each slate tell part of the story.

The Proviso Children’s First Party raised almost 50 percent more money than the Proviso Together slate of Theresa Kelly, Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner. For the 12,093 ballots cast in the race, Kelly, Medina and Wagner raised $2.44 per vote while Children’s First raised $3.67, nearly 50 percent more.

Analyzing how the money flows in local elections is mostly a hindsight game, as the State of Illinois does not require political committees to disclose contributions until April 15, after the votes have been counted for local elections the first Tuesday of April. Furthermore, by that date candidates are only required to disclose contributions and disbursements up until April 1. This leaves money-shifting in a campaign’s final days under wraps until July, when committees disclose their second quarter numbers.

But in the case of District 209, illuminating differences show up between the committees of Proviso Together and Proviso Children’s First Party in the amounts donated, number of donors and the people writing checks.

Citizens for Kelly, Medina and Wagner raised $29,477 between Jan. 1 –March 31, including in-kind donations. The Proviso Children’s First Party raised almost 50 percent more, reporting $44,339 in all contributions.

A difference was the Children’s First slate received a much higher amount of in-kind donations, including last-minute printing donations totaling $11,664 reported April 1 from 7th District State Rep. Chris Welch and Del Galdo Law Group, the school district’s law firm.

The number of donors and amounts given also underscores the differences in the campaigns. As might be expected in a grass-roots campaign, Kelly, Medina and Wagner received donations from 35 individual donors, many of whom had Forest Park addresses. Donations were small but frequent, ranging from $25 to $650 for a total of 96. One local politician, Forest Park Village Commissioner and mayoral candidate Chris Harris, gave three donations totaling $355.

The Children’s First committee was able to take in more money from fewer donors, and stretched its fundraising reach to politicians outside Proviso Township. The committee reported 17 total donations between Feb. 22– when it was formed — and April 1.

Political transfers

Children’s First received $500 each from the war chests of Mayor Larry Dominick of Cicero; 92nd Dist. Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth of Peoria and the SEIU Local 73 PAC. Proviso Township Supervisor Michael Corrigan also kicked in $500.

During this timeframe these politicians also transferred money among and between the political campaign chests of mayors Ron Serpico of Melrose Park; Christopher Getty of Lyons and Steve Landek of Bridgeview, as well as Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolsky of McCook.

Another familiar political name to Forest Parkers was Forest Park’s hired lobbyist Matthew O’Shea who donated $500 to Children’s First. O’Shea pops up on Welch’s campaign donor list multiple times over the past several years.

Self-financing:

The amount of money contributed by candidates and their households was almost 10 times higher by Children’s First candidates than the Kelly-Medina-Wagner slate.

Candidates Francine Harrell, Teddy Matthews and ShawnTe Raines-Welch each donated $5,000 to the committee. When family contributions from Chris Welch to his wife’s campaign are included, the total amount self-financed was $20,075.

In contrast Nathan “Ned” Wagner and family members donated around $1,900 to the campaign, and candidate Theresa Kelly donated $850.

Business donations

Other heavy-hitters to the Children’s First campaign included businesses Restore Construction ($1,000) and M & M Building Services ($250), both vendors to the school district. Both companies were hired in the $5 million reconstruction of Proviso East High School after a May 2014 fire.

There was only one business donation to Kelly Medina and Wagner: $500 from Circle F Properties in Naperville.

Proviso District 209 School Board race by the numbers:

Proviso Together vs. Children’s First

Number of donors: 35 vs. 13

Number of donations: 95 vs. 17

Contributed $ per vote $2.49 vs. $3.67

Candidate self-financing $2,750 vs. $20,075

Political committee transfers $0 vs. $2,000

Total contributions $29,477 vs. $44,339 VFP

Contact: schoolboardfocuswest@gmail.com.