MOLINE — After the Western Illinois University Board was found to have repeatedly violated the Open Meetings Act, board chair Polly Radosh vowed to release four hours' worth of tapes of illegal discussions.
But Radosh won’t commit to releasing four years' worth of other sessions that took place behind closed doors although they should have been open to the public.
Since late 2015, the WIU board has refused to release summaries of discussions held during closed sessions. That secrecy has frustrated faculty members and led to legal trouble with the state.
In an interview with the editorial board of the Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com, Radosh said that she hasn’t heard tapes from those closed sessions, and she will “have to hear what they say before I can make a decision as to what we’re going to do.”
Radosh, a retired longtime professor at WIU who lives outside Macomb, was appointed to the board in March and elected chair in June.
Earlier this month, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office determined that the WIU board repeated violated the Open Meetings Act in 2018. The board membership has fully turned over since then, and Radosh has vowed to release the roughly four hours of tapes from meetings that the AG deemed improper.
But the WIU board has not released minutes of closed sessions since 2015, according to public meeting minutes from the university.
Radosh defended the previous board, saying it relied on the advice of then-interim university counsel Bruce Biagini, who was present at the illicit meetings.
“The people on the board are good people,” Radosh said. “They made mistakes. Some of the mistakes are unforgivable. But they did have a general counsel in the room, and general counsel should have advised them not to make the mistakes that they made.”
Biagini, who previously served as the university’s general counsel and ethics officer, was suspended for 90 days in 2009 by the Illinois Supreme Court for an ethics violation, according to the Peoria Journal Star.
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“The previous board members, whatever their mistakes were, they were trying to do what was best for the institution,” Radosh said. “They were private citizens who gave their time and energy to the institution, and if things on those tapes would disparage them and have no useful purpose, I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do.”
Other public bodies such as school and municipal boards routinely release records of their closed sessions, often by the next meeting.
Bill Thompson, president of WIU's chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois union, called the opacity “outrageous.”
The board’s issues come at a time of ongoing turbulence at the university, which is battling nosediving enrollment.
In the editorial board interview, Acting President Martin Abraham, who came to WIU this summer from Ohio, emphasized ways he is trying to improve campus morale.
The board will meet next week for the first time since June. Its July meeting was abruptly canceled when the board was unable to reach quorum.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is poised to name new trustees to the board to fill two spots that have been open since the summer. The names have not yet been released.
“One of our challenges is to counter the narrative that the board does things behind the scenes. It’s the elephant in the room,” Radosh said, referring to illicit discussions held by the old board. “It happened. We want to make sure that things are open, transparent and inclusive. We’re going to do everything we can.
“Those (old) tapes are very lengthy,” Radosh added. “We’re all new. We have somebody, our general counsel is listening to them. I don’t know whether it’s appropriate yet (to release them). It’s possible, but we haven’t come together as a board to even discuss it yet. We’ll see.”