Lawsuit alleges Board of Trustees violated law

By Lindsey Salvatelli

DeKALB — A student has ini­tiated a lawsuit against the Board of Trustees that could void for­mer president Doug Baker’s sev­erance agreement.

Misty Haji-Sheikh, graduate student at-large, has filed a law­suit against the Board of Trustees for allegedly violating portions of the Illinois Open Meeting Act. A status conference is scheduled for Sept. 22 at the DeKalb County Courthouse, 133 W. State St., Syc­amore.

The lawsuit challenges the way the Board presented its agenda and how the special meeting in which Baker announced his res­ignation was held. Haji-Sheikh, who is represented by attorney Charles Philbrick of Rathje and Woodward, said she filed the law­suit against the Board because she wants to hold them account­able when it comes to following the law.

“I just want them to follow what the law says, to me, in plain language…” Haji-Sheikh said.

Baker announced his resigna­tion at a June 15 Board of Trust­ees meeting. The special meeting went into a seven-hour closed session in which Baker’s contract was negotiated and trustees ap­pointed former Provost Lisa Free­man as interim president.

When the meeting convened fol­lowing closed session, it lasted a little more than 13 minutes and ad­journed without public comment.

Philbrick said he is not contest­ing the closed session, as employ­ment contract negotiations are ex­empt under the statute. However, he said the closed session violated the statute in that the meeting agenda was not properly disclosed and public comment was not al­lowed after the meeting con­vened.

 Philbrick said information re­garding the general terms of Bak­er’s transition agreement was not disclosed with the meeting’s public notice but instead was addressed near the end of the 13-minute meeting before being finalized, which he said is not in compliance with the statute.

“It would have been really easy for the Board to set the agenda item before the public comment,” Philbrick said. “It would have been easy for them to disclose, 48 hours in advance, the subject matter and what they were considering in terms of a severance agreement.”

Philbrick said Haji-Sheikh was selected because she was a citizen who was in a position to bring the lawsuit.

Philbrick said there is no mon­etary award in this type of lawsuit; rather, it forces the Board to com­ply with the statute.

HajI-Sheikh said she shared cor­respondence with Gregory Brady, acting vice president and general counsel, challenging his interpre­tation of “transition” and “termi­nation,” as well as the state’s law on posting notice before a meeting.

The Open Meetings Act is de­signed to make public organiza­tions hold open, public meetings with a 48 hour notice in convenient locations, according to the statute.

“When they came out of closed session, I was there; there was nothing posted except two words: President employment,” Haji-Sheikh said. “That was it; there was nothing about how much they would pay him or anything like that.”

Haji-Sheikh said she was ap­proached about a week after the June 15 special meeting by mem­bers of Illinois Leaks, an organi­zation she has worked with in the past, to bring suit against the Board of Trustees. The organization is a watchdog group that tracks and reports perceived corruption in Il­linois’ public institutions.

“They can either fight this, in­sisting they have done everything that they’re required to do under the law,” Philbrick said. “Or, they could do what a lot of municipali­ties do when they’re faced with this circumstance and simply schedule a new meeting and do it right.”

John Butler, former Board of Trustees chair, and spokesperson Joe King said they are unable to provide comment while there is pending litigation.