Will Co. (ECWd) -
Memo to Lincoln-Way High School District 210 administrators: You just cannot get anything right, can you? You want to sway public opinion back to your side since coming under public—then federal—scrutiny for your financial games over the past decades. You scheme and plot and think you’re really clever with your PR plans. But those plans go awry because you keep on forgetting the basic tenets of trust. No one trusts you. Just stop hiding things! Come clean, communicate, and tell the truth! Your constituents should not have to SUE you to get you to talk with them.
The administrators of LW210 really think they are good at deception. Maybe they were when they were playing shell games with budgets, using taxpayer funds for personal gain, and offering sweetheart deals to unrelated companies. Well, not anymore, since one too many stupid decisions like closing a high-tech new school instead of the oldest of four have awakened public awareness. Now, everything the district does is scrutinized by taxpayers; and with good reason. Every time a Freedom of Information Act request goes out, a question gets asked, an email is lobbed into the district offices…the public finds something nasty brewing below the surface. Take the newest example of a “volunteer” strategic planner who, it turns out, has been a friend of the district for years! The district never did its own volunteering of that information.
White Knight Tarnished
The day before he came from nowhere and offered his strategic-planning services to District 210, Robert Madonia emailed with the superintendent that his plan “would be just the beginning of good press” (page 14) Then he stepped to the mic during Sept 22 public comment at the district’s finance committee meeting, supposedly as a good guy hoping to “give back to his community.” The public cheered when Madonia said he would offer his services for free, just to do the right thing. But those same people who cheered are used to lots of shady district dealings. They didn’t give Madonia the benefit of the doubt for too long.
Within days, taxpayers were doing online searches and sending Freedom of Information Act requests on Madonia. And, as usual in this district, they got a hit. Madonia was more than he seemed.
Friends in Low Places
First, the people found that Madonia was endorsed by former kingmaker and superintendent, Lawrence Wyllie, in 2013 to serve as a Lincoln-Way hearing officer. Wyllie is under investigation by the Feds for his unique guidance of district funds. And who approved of Wyllie’s endorsement March 14, 2013? Two other people whose names instantly put taxpayers on alert: Arvid Johnson and Kevin Molloy, long-standing board members who abruptly resigned their seats when the heat turned up, read here and here.
The Madonia relationship continued into 2016, according to a basic FOIA on communications between Madonia and District 210. One email shows that, on Sept. 13, 2016, Madonia met with District 210 Superintendent R. Scott Tingley; Board of Education President Dee Molinare; and Board Secretary Chris Kosel. So it appears on the face that the do-good speech was likely orchestrated by the district. The group was already looking at public meeting dates before the Board of Education formally approved of Madonia’s strategic-planning services.
Forget the Past? Good Luck
Madonia said in another email to Tingley that “we need to take the focus off of the past” (page 14). OH, so that’s the goal. Good to know! But sadly, this particular district cannot direct any focus off the past until the tangled web of finances is unraveled, and taxpayers get justice for the mess they have to endure. The past is what has captured the intense interest of several law-enforcement agencies. All too often ignoring the past is why nothing ever gets fixed. Even a drunk has to recognize their past if they want to stop being a drunk.
One message from Madonia to Tingley describes the process of selecting a community group to share input. “We can open it up to volunteers to submit their backgrounds and people will be selected that best match our focus areas.” "Match our focus areas"? (page 13) So, in other words, they are planning to pick the people who support their skewed vision of recovery.
Who are You, Anyway?
In another friendly email exchange, Madonia said Tingley should give him a call because he had “an idea that might save you money when going out for the TAWs” (Page 15). What does Madonia have to do with the Tax Anticipation Warrants of the high school district? Answers, please! It just never ends.
With some open dialogue and clear communication, the district could have given the public assurance that, while Madonia has a history with the district, his new role is not business of usual. But doing the wrong thing is second nature to this bunch. And so the digging will continue and more dirt will get uncovered. It’s the Lincoln-Way way.
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