Mokena SD 159 board president’s mailings under scrutiny
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent October 18, 2012 9:30PM
Karrie Bieker on Wednesday asks about the Mokena School District 159 school board’s policy on materials mailed out to residents by individual board members. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 20, 2012 11:06AM
A group of Mokena School District 159 parents is asking the district for a policy regulating materials mailed out to residents by board members.
Karrie Bieker, at Wednesday’s meeting, asked the board to develop a district approval process after she and other parents received mailings from board President Patrick Markham, which they thought to have “inaccuracies, incorrect grammar and (the) appearance of self-promotion.”
After the meeting, Bieker said she was speaking on behalf of about 20 parents who are concerned about postcards and letters sent to Mokena residents since Markham’s election to the board in 2011.
Bieker said she saw seven mailings from Markham, including a postcard soliciting funds to “help ... cover the costs of postage to continue to keep people fully informed.”
The postcard has a return address identifying Markham as the “VP (vice president of the) School Board.”
Bieker also said “thank you” letters to businesses that purchased advertising space in the district’s calendar included the Frankfort Township logo and the Mokena School District 159 logo on the same letterhead. The letter had a list of organizations of which Markham is a member, including his position as township collector.
Bieker supplied board members with facsimiles of many of the documents.
She said she believes the mailings violate the Illinois Association of School Boards’ “code of conduct” for school board members, including the stipulation to avoid the appearance of impropriety or using a school board seat for personal gain or publicity.
“He (Markham) is representing our school and combining a different emblem of the organization he belongs to with the school emblem. It appears self-serving,” Bieker said.
Anna Lovern, Illinois Association of School Boards policy director, said Markham’s use of the school logo on mailings gives “the appearance of impropriety.”
“Using the school logo makes it appear as if he’s representing the school (in his mailings),” Lovern said.
She said it appears it is “possibly for personal gain or for publicity.”
Markham said he is “disappointed” that his mailings are an issue.
“I feel obligated to inform the community, to thank the community and to recognize students who made the honor roll,” Markham said.
He said Bieker and the group are motivated by an opposing position to his concerning the failed 2011 property tax increase referendum effort.
“It’s still a division between the pro-referendum and the no-referendum committees,” Markham said.
He said he ran for the school board on a “no referendum” platform.
“I was the poster boy for no referendum,” Markham said. “Now I’m the target.”
He said his mailings with two logos was done to “catch the eyes” of the recipient.
“In my perspective, I’ve earned (the right to use both logos). Those are obligations I’ve committed to,” he said.
Markham said his postcard to residents asking them to “Help Vote in More New Board Members” was not about replacing the two members who are up for re-election in 2013, Scott Peters and Kathy Moore.
Peters and Moore have been the most frequent opposition voters regarding measures approved by Markham.
“I don’t think that deeply on it. The old board seems like they’ve sat on there forever and they’re out of touch,” Markham said.
Two board appointees, Mark Franceschini and Jeff Regan, also may run for election in 2013. Franceschini replaced the late Frank Ventura in 2011 and Regan filled a vacancy in August, left by board president John Troy when he took over as the district’s business manager.
Markham said he “absolutely” had the approval of the district’s attorney to solicit funds from the public for mailings.
“(Supt.) Steve Stein and I talked and he submitted it to the attorney,” Markham said. “The attorney OK’d it.”
But Stein said he spoke with Markham after he was made aware of the postcard soliciting funds. He said he submitted the material to the district’s attorney.
“The attorney looked at what had been sent out,” Stein said.
“My understanding is no future mailings will be sent out until the board weighs in on establishing specific protocols regarding communication with the public,” he said.
Markham said he acted on his own in the mailings because he does not want to tell other board members “how to represent.”