KANKAKEE, IL. (ECWd) –
Karen Johnston, former member of the Kankakee School District Board of Education, participated in an activity which presented a conflict of interest between her elected position as board member, and her application for and job interview and hiring for the newly created position of Transportation Director for the district. This type of activity appears to violate state law: the Illinois School Code and the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act as described below.
We reached out to Superintendent Genevra Walters on October 24, 2018, with several follow-up emails (Nov 7 and Dec 1). No comment was provided and no legal opinion from the district’s attorneys was provided.
This cannot be allowed to stand and needs to be investigated by law enforcement for the allegations of criminal activities described below. In our opinion, her employment is void and she needs to return any compensation she has received from that position of employment.
Karen Johnston, while in the elected position of School Board member, participated in the application for, and the making and letting of a contract for employment by participating in the application and interviewing process while still serving as a board member.
Incidentally, the interview committee members were all employees of the school district in which she was a sitting board member of.
At the time of her application and subsequent interview, she had an interest in the contract for employment and that interest had the potential for influencing the hiring decision of the employees making up the interview committee. She could have been called upon to act or vote at anytime prior to her resignation.
Section 3(a) of the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act is the more restrictive statute and carries the language of a prohibition of making application for, and the making or letting for the performance of work or contract.
Therefore, in our opinion, her employment is void, her employment contract is void, and she should be subjected to the penalties described in Section 10.9(g) of the School Code (see page 2) and Section 4 of the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act (see page 4).
Had she resigned prior to discussing the position, the posting of the position, submitting her application, and sitting for the interview, this, in our opinion, would not have violated any provisions of the above laws.
For the approximately 11 ½ years prior, Karen Johnston was a member of the Board of Education of Kankakee School District 111.
September 14, 2018, the newly created position of Transportation Director was posted. See Exhibit A.
September 19, 2018, Karen Johnston submitted her application for the Transportation Director position. See Exhibit B.
September 25, 2018, Interviews for the position of Transportation Director were conducted. Interview Committee consisted of current School District employees. See Exhibit C.
September 30, 2018, Karen Johnston submitted her emailed resignation from the Board of Education. See Exhibit D.
October 3, 2018, During the same meeting that her resignation from the Board was announced, Karen Johnston was hired as Transportation Director with a salary of $55,000 per year. See Meeting Minutes from Oct 3, 2018.