The school board called an emergency meeting last night to address the objections filed by school board candidate Anthony Stephens against fellow candidate Matthew Johnson and incumbent school board president Mindy Olson.
When an objection is filed, Illinois election code states the school board president, the school board secretary and the next longest serving school board member will serve on an electoral board to review the objection.
In this instance, Olson and board of education secretary Beth Fender, who is also running for re-election, were ineligible to be on the electoral board.
Steve Cantrell and Craig Albers were selected to the committee. Albers will serve as chairman of the electoral board. Stephens requested the school board members recuse themselves from the electoral committee, but District 117 attorney Allen Yow says that’s not allowed according to the election code.
The third member of the electoral board was selected by Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Leslie Graves. She appointed Springfield attorney Brittany Kink-Toigo. Yow says she’s served on electoral boards in the past.
There was a question about the validity of the emergency meeting from Emily Ralph, who is pushing for a ‘ward-based’ election system for the school board. She claimed on the WLDS-WEAI Facebook page that the meeting was not in line with the Open Meetings Act because there was no emergency necessitating last night’s meeting.
District 117 attorney Allen Yow addresses those concerns.
“We had no choice but to meet tonight to determine who was going to be on the electoral board and who was going to be the chairman," says Yow. "Because by noon [Friday] the information needs to be sent to the chairman. So, the board secretary has to know who chairman of the electoral board is. The chairman also has to know who the other members of the board are. In order for us to be in compliance with the election code it was essential that we meet [last night]."
Yow says the committee will announce a time and date for a public hearing to be held at the Morgan County Courthouse concerning the validity of the objected petitions. He says the hearing could happen next week.
“A call is to go out to the electoral board members stating when the hearing is going to be and that's to be within 3 to 5 days of the chairman receiving the documents," says Yow. "But it depends where those 3 to 5 days land to determine whether we'll have it next week or not."
Among the claims, Stephens says Olson’s petition was signed by the person who notarized it which he says makes it invalid. He says Johnson’s petition was notarized and signed by Olson, which would invalidate those petitions as well. Stephens also claims the petitions for both Olson and Johnson don’t have correct address information.
Albers says this is an expensive process for the district.
“I hope that Mr. [Stephens] is sincere in this protest and not just shooting in the dark because it's going to cost this district thousands of dollars to adjudicate."
Stephens says the objection was filed to protect voter’s interests.
“I absolutely am genuine," says Stephens. "I have presented cost-saving measures to the school district on many occasions which have never, ever been looked into. I hope Mr. Albers is as sincere as he's questioning me to make sure the integrity of the vote is protected. As an elected official I'm sure he understands that's important."
If the objections are valid, one or both of the candidates would be removed from the ballot.