D86 meeting ends after members leave

Last week’s Hinsdale High School District 86 Board meeting ended abruptly after three board members walked out in protest, leaving the body without a quorum.

Board members Peggy James, Debbie Levinthal and Jeff Waters left the June 23 meeting at the Transition Center before a vote to approve closed session minutes from February, which had been pulled from the consent agenda by board President Erik Held, who was participating remotely. Earlier in the meeting, James, who had composed the minutes as then-board secretary, used the audience communication platform to object to unilateral edits Held had made to the minutes.

“I drafted accurate, comprehensive and thorough minutes of those meetings,” she said. “Mr. Held made anywhere from 97 to over 200 edits to each document, and materially changed the content.”

James said normal practice is to direct change requests to the author of the minutes.

“Instead, Mr. Held determined he had the authority to make those changes himself without input from the full board,” she said.

During her remarks, board Vice President Kathleen Hirsman, presiding in Held’s absence, interrupted James out of concern she was discussing confidential board information.

Following the approval of the consent agenda and before discussion of the pulled closed session minutes, James announced she was leaving. Levinthal and Waters followed suit, with Waters noting the resulting lack a quorum. Hirsman then adjourned the meeting.

Speaking about the matter on Tuesday, James said she was troubled that she didn’t learn of Held’s changes until less than a week before the meeting.

“What I objected to was the process,” she said. “As the board secretary, suggested edits should be funneled through me.”

Asked why she chose to air her grievance during public comment, she replied, “It was the only opportunity prior to the consent agenda, when the minutes were presented.”

Held, contacted this week, indicated that, in hindsight, he would have handled the matter differently.

“I think this one was a miscommunication slip-up on my part,” Held said. “While I thought it was minor changes, obviously it wasn’t taken that way, and it is important to respect our fellow board members and respect the process.”

He said James’ original versions were before the board last week, and that he pulled them from the consent agenda with the intention of making amends.

“Peggy made a strong point about why she wanted the minutes to be her minutes,” he said. “My edits can be tossed in the bin.”

James confirmed that the board was presented with the original version for adoption.

She said there was had been no arrangement with Levinthal and Waters to leave.

“It was not coordinated,” she said.

This was the latest episode of discord for the board, which has been marked by divisiveness across a range of issues over the last year.

Held said he hopes for less rancor and more unity going forward.

“I think ultimately all seven of us are at the table for the betterment of the district and maintaining our tradition of excellence,” he said. “The key thing will be respecting each other and making sure if there a question, we are approaching everything in a respectful fashion.”

The board is holding a special meeting at 11:30 a.m. today, June 30, in the District Administrative Center, 5500 S. Grant St., to take up items held over from last week’s agenda.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean