Appointment of ousted-president to Thornton Township school board produces two lawsuits questioning quorum, eligibility

By Bethany Krajelis | Nov 18, 2014

Kenneth Williams

Two lawsuits filed Tuesday in Cook County seek to bar a former suburban school board president from returning to the board he was booted from last year, but appointed to last week by three members, one of whom is his wife.

At the center of both complaints is Kenneth Williams, a South Holland resident who was elected to the Thornton Township High Schools District 205 Board of Education in 2009 and went on to become its president.

Williams, however, was ousted from the board shortly before the end of his second term by an Oct. 23, 2013 court ruling that found him ineligible to hold office based on a 1985 felony conviction for aiding, inducing or causing a forgery in Indiana.

His seat on the seven-member board was set to remain vacant until the April 2015 election because a timely appointment was not made, leaving only six members.

Despite Cook County Associate Judge Rita M. Novak’s ruling, the two recently-filed lawsuits say three board members recently appointed Williams to the board to fill the vacancy created by member Laura Green’s Nov. 12 resignation.

Those three board members-- Darren Robinson, Judith Gibbs and Williams’ wife, Toni Williams – held a special public meeting on Oct. 21, when they allegedly interviewed potential candidates, including Williams, during executive session and then appointed him to Green’s seat at a Nov. 12 special meeting.

The two other sitting members who didn’t attend either special meeting -- Bernadette Lawrence and Edward Crayton—filed one of the lawsuits Tuesday, claiming the meetings were purposefully held at times they could not attend and violated laws requiring a quorum of the board to hold meetings and take action.

The duo’s complaint asks a judge to issue a judgment declaring that Williams is ineligible and barred from sitting on the board based on his prior felony conviction.

While Williams said in an article published Monday in the Chicago Tribune that he is eligible to run for office because he had his 1985 conviction expunged, Lawrence and Crayton claim in their complaint he has not received a pardon from Indiana’s governor.

In addition to deeming Williams ineligible to sit on the board, they also want a judge to void the actions taken by the three members at the Oct. 21 and Nov. 12 special meetings and determine they violated the Open Meetings Act based on the lack of a quorum.

Lawrence and Crayton’s suit notes that both the offices of the Illinois Attorney General and Cook County States’ Attorney refused their request or have otherwise failed to bring court action over Williams’ reinstatement.

Their complaint names Robinson, Williams, Toni Williams, Gibbs and the board as defendants. The duo is being represented by Chicago attorneys James A. Petrungaro and Adam Dauksas of Scariano Himes & Petrarca Chtd.

The other suit filed Tuesday over Williams’ reinstatement was brought by Vanessa J. Kinder, the chief administrative officer of South Cook Intermediate Service Center who supervises all of the school districts in that region, including Thornton Township High School District205.

In her complaint against the school board and Williams, Kinder asserts the board violated the Illinois School Code by holding meetings and taking a vote to appoint Williams to Green’s vacancy even though only three members were there.

Kinder is asking a judge to issue a judgment voiding the board’s Nov. 12 appointment of Williams on the basis of its failure to have a quorum present. She further asserts that even though Novak’s 2013 ruling is on appeal, it has not been reversed or stayed, which means the board appointed someone who is ineligible to sit on the board.

Pointing again to the state’s School Code, Kinder says that if the board does not appoint a qualified member to the board by Nov. 29, she will have the authority to do so between Nov. 30 and Dec. 30.

Kinder is being represented by William F. Gleason of Sraga Hauser LLC in Flossmoor.

The above photo was posted on the district's website , which also included an announcement congratulating Williams on being appointed by the board.

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