School board president apologizes for Open Meetings Act violation

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RANTOUL, Ill. (WCIA) — The Illinois Attorney General has ruled the school board broke the law after the board president silenced a man who tried to speak during public comment at an open meeting.

In October, Wendell Golston was cut off by the board president while trying to talk about violence and the district’s disciplinary policy. Months later, after an investigation, the state Attorney General’s office announced the school board violated the Open Meetings Act.

Board President Bill Sweat made a point to publicly apologize for what he did at Thursday night’s school board meeting. But the investigation and ruling came as a surprise to some of the other school board members. A few of them said they were left in the dark about the investigation and the ruling until now.

Toward the beginning of the meeting Sweat said, “I should not have interrupted you and re-directed your conversation. I should’ve let you go on and continue.”

At the meeting in October, Golston started speaking by referencing a shooting that happened earlier that day involving two teenagers. Both the shooter and the victim used to go to school in Rantoul. So Wendell wanted to ask the board to consider reviewing and improving the district’s disciplinary policy to help students. Golston says, “I wanted them to be aware of what was going on in the community and how it’s affected everything.”

Sweat interrupted him, stopping Golston from speaking, saying that his comment did not pertain to school business. Golston says, “I thought he was being unfair not allowing me to speak openly about a topic that was dear to me and that is still dear to me. He was telling me that what I was saying is not what he wanted to hear.”

Soon after, Golston sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office about what happened. Just this week, they ruled that the school board violated the open meeting’s act by restricting Golston’s comments. Sweat says, “Honestly, I did not think it was a violation.”

When Sweat apologized, it was met with shock from some of the other school board members. One of them said, “I didn’t know about the Attorney General stuff. I didn’t have any idea.”

Andy Graham confronted Sweat saying, “You were notified October 31st and now we are hearing about it on January 16th?” The Attorney General’s office cited the entire board for the violation. Sweat replied saying, “The board did not make the mistake. Bill Sweat made the mistake.”

But that response wasn’t good enough for some. Graham said, “I’m part of this team. We should’ve been copied on this response.” Sweat replied saying, “My bad, I didn’t copy you on the response.” Graham came back saying, “You’re bad? So you are making a mockery of this board room?”

During public comment one person spoke up asking for the board president to resign. Sweat responded saying he would not do that because he didn’t feel his actions warranted it.

In a letter regarding this violation, the Attorney General’s office says, “The open meetings act does not authorize the board president’s interruption because it addressed the content of Mr. Golston’s comments rather than a procedural matter.” It also said that Golston’s comments were not personal attacks, profane, or disruptive.

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