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D209's decade-long one man show

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Bill Dwyer View Drop Down
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    Posted: 17/September/2013 at 12:21pm

The business of local high school boards is generally conducted through an open power sharing process.

On most school boards in the near west suburbs, the board president position-in which authority to direct school board agendas and discussion is vested,- is routinely rotated among sitting school board members every year or two.

At Proviso Township District 209, however, for 10 years that authority was grasped solely by one person- Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

During that period, Proviso schools sank deeper and deeper into debt and became increasingly academically anemic. Even as it worked up one b.s. PR stunt after another- "Proviso Rising, etc- to mask the dark reality of Welch's mismanagement. 

In 2012 I looked into the practices of five high school boards adjacent to Welch’s Proviso District 209. They include Oak Park and River Forest, D200, Elmwood Park D401, Elmhurst D205, Riverside Brookfield D208 and Morton (Berwyn and Cicero) D201.

Four of the other neighboring high school districts had anywhere from three to seven board presidents. D201 has had at least two.

Over that same 10-year period, D209 board members saw fit to elect Welch board president for five consecutive two-year terms. Welch was elected to the D209 board in 2001. He assumed the presidency in April, 2003, and held it until he squeaked out a razor thin victory of Rory Hoskins for election to the State House of Representatives.

Teresa Kelly was D209 board president immediately prior to Welch, in 2002-03, and still serves on the board. She said in 2012 she didn’t recall a board discussion regarding any change in the policy governing the board presidency.

Kelly herself tried to extend her board presidency, former D209 board member Mike Manzo said, but she was rebuffed. “Danny Adams (a Melrose Park board member and Welch loyalist) said ‘No, we need to switch every two years,’” Manzo recalled of an April, 2003 board discussion.

Welch was then elected president. But when his two years were up, Adams’ position on the issue of rotating the board presidency had changed.

“He suspended that policy when he became president,” former D209 board President Mike Manzo said od Welch. “Why? So he could be president longer.”

“Adams position then was that (the board) could over-ride the policy,” said Manzo.

Kelly is less clear on the details, saying, “It just happened.” She declined to be quoted regarding Welch other than to say, “I disagree with some of the things Chris Welch has proposed and done. That led to circumstances I felt were not pleasant.”

Inconsistency aside, the practice is not illegal. The D209 policy is silent on any rotation of the board presidency, except to state: “The Board of Education elects a President from its members for a 2-year term.”

Two high school board presidents, one current, one former, said being a school board president is about having much responsibility and little authority. At least at normal high school districts that don’t require state fiscal oversight.

Matthew Sinde, Jr. was president of the Riverside Brookfield D208 board in 2012. He said there have been maybe three presidents of that school board the past nine or ten years.

“Including myself, about three,” he said in 2012.

“You’re just leading the board, running the meetings,” Sinde said. “You don’t have any power other than that.”

Asked about longer serving school board presidents, Sinde said, “If you look around the state, there are boards that do and those that don’t.”

“I don’t know what would be the motivation,” he added.

River Forest village president John Rigas served eight years on the Oak Park River Forest D200 board from 2001-2009, including one year as president. He said he had no interest in that role long-term.

“It’s very time consuming, much more than just being a school board member,” he said. The board president he said, “is the first point of contact from people on a lot of issues, and handles the day to day (business) with the superintendent.”

Like Sinde, Rigas said he “had no idea of the politics” in Proviso Township and “don’t know what would be the motivation” for someone to serve as president as long as Welch has.

But, as court depositions show, Melrose Park mayor Ron Serpico hasn’t worked as hard as he has the past 20 years to control the D209 and D89 and Triton College D504 boards to allow mere chance to impact many decisions there.

Manzo said the reason is simple. Power.

The power to hire, to fire, to let out lucrative contracts and influence other politicians throughout Proviso Township. Power stemming from both the carrot of jobs and contracts, and the stick of with holding the revenue from those jobs and contracts.

With more than $70 million in both Triton’s and D209’s annual budgets, that’s a lot of carrots. Just ask Welch's political mentor, Eugene Moore, who received $216,000 worth of carrots for "brokering" D209's insurance several years back. What exactly Moore did for the money has never been clearly documented. 

Both Manzo and Kelly have regularly criticized Welch for decisions related to hiring practices and other expenditures that have put the district into financial difficulty.

Welch has stated under oath in a legal deposition that he “is just one of seven votes” and exerts no special individual authority on matters before the board, including personnel decisions.

School board members throughout Illinois swear an oath to uphold the Illinois Association of School Boards Code of Conduct for Members of Boards of Education.

The Code states in part, “Board of Education members, as individuals, have no authority over school affairs, except as provided by law or as authorized by the Board.”

D209 board president Chris Welch said he supports the board member code, which his board has adopted.

Welch, who did not respond to any requests to comment on any issue the past two years, has previously denied any direct authority for hiring or firing of school personnel.

“I’m a board member, a policy maker,” he said in a 2006 civil case deposition. “I have nothing to do with the hiring process. I don’t sit on any interviews. I don’t read any applications.”

But testimony in a 2010 lawsuit filed by D209 administrator Dylester Palm, the Dean of Students alleged otherwise. Palm said Welch personally worked to alter her employment, pressuring her boss at Proviso West to transfer.

Welch’s lie is further underscored by a text message he sent to another D209 official.

(I’ll attach a photograph of that cell phone text on the screen of the actual cell phone, in another posting here.)

Palm said Welch’s actions occurred after he became incensed at what he perceived as disrespect by Palm at a Sept., 2010 football game where she declined his request for a hug. He allegedly sent the following text message to Palm’s sister, Proviso West principal Alexis Wallace

“I allowed them to be employed! And I’m the board president! Period! End of conversation. Things better change now. I won’t tolerate disrespect.”

Welch reportedly added, “I had a direct hand in helping them b here including u. No one else. At the minimum, I deserve respect.”

Palm said she was subsequently transferred from Proviso West to Proviso East, at Welch’s insistence, in retaliation “for my refusal to accept physical displays of affection from him.”

Welch, unable to muster the courage to stand up and speak for himself, replied through a spokesman on his campaign website. The relationship between Welch and Wallace, that spokesman said, “became sour after reorganization and school reform at District 209 left her in a new unwanted administrative position. She then retired. Yet news reports state that she was fired—leaving no doubt that politics and old vendettas are resurfacing against the top candidate in the 7th District race.”

Luckily for Welch, his position on his power over hiring and firing D209 staff was documented in a 2006 civil deposition.

In short, he said, he has little power, that he (was) just one of seven votes.

Welch was "just one of seven votes" on August 22, 2005, when he cast the tie-breaking vote on his brother Billy Welch’s hiring as a school custodian.

In his deposition, Welch said his brother’s hiring came before the board unnoticed to him, that he’d no previous knowledge his brother had even applied for the position.

“Did you have any other role in Billy Welch being hired other than the vote that night,” Welch was asked.

“No,” he answered.

“Did you recommend to anybody that Billy Welch be hired?’

“No,” he answered.

“Did you suggest that Billy apply for the position?”

“I don’t even remember my brother applying. I did not know that he applied for the job,” Welch answered.

“Prior to the 22nd,” the attorney asked.

“Correct,” Welch replied.

“So when you saw the agenda for the first time, at the August 22 meting, was that the first time you found out that Billy Welch had applied?”

“Yes, as far as I recall,” Welch replied.

The lawyer later questioned Welch about his brother being arrested as part of a major drug surveillance investigation throughout the western suburbs and on the west side of Chicago in 2003.

Welch told the attorney “my brother was not convicted of any crime in the school code. If He was, I would have been obligated to put that information forward.”

“You don’t think that somebody being arrested with a drug dealer is relevant for a (school) board to determine whether or not to hire somebody to work in a school,” the attorney asked.

At that point, Welch’s attorney, James J. Roche, objected and instructed him not to answer the question.

Roche also later objected to Welch answering any questions regarding his Students First political party and its connection to D209 employees.

“How many volunteers are a part of that organization,” the attorney asked Welch. Roche told him not to answer.

“How many volunteers are employees of District 209 for the …” the attorney began to ask.

“Do not answer that question,” Roche told Welch. “Stop harassing my witness,” he demanded of the attorney.

When the attorney started to inquire about a $5,000 political contribution from Welch’s political mentor, Eugene Moore to Welch, Roche said, “All right. That’s it. That’s it. Let’s go.”

After brief further argument, Roche terminated the deposition.

But Welch can’t terminate this website forum and the questions raised. And an array of depositions and court documents certainly do raise questions about what really happened. 

Facts are a bitch and the truth most hurts the liars
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote piehead Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17/September/2013 at 1:06pm
And people like Tony Calderone strongly endorse Chris Welch and what he represents. People need to remember that as well.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Bill Dwyer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20/September/2013 at 4:30pm
Facts are a bitch and the truth most hurts the liars
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote piehead Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21/September/2013 at 9:16am
I can't read what it says, Bill.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Bill Dwyer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21/September/2013 at 1:30pm

“I allowed them to be employed. And I’m the board President! Period! End of conversation. Things better change now. I won’t tolerate disrespect.”


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