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In a recent case, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff had standing as a taxpayer to challenge a school board’s vote that called for the reinstatement of a district administrator, with back pay and an award of attorney’s fees, because the vote violated the board’s anti-nepotism policy.

During the 2012-2013 school year, Rich Township High School District 227 employed Bridget Imoukhuede, a tenured teacher, as the assistant principal of alternative programs. She was first hired in 1990. Imoukhuede’s husband was first elected to Rich Township’s Board of Education in 2007.

In July of 2013, the board adopted a resolution to suspend Imoukhuede without pay and discharge her. Imoukhuede contested the board’s resolution and requested an ISBE hearing. Subsequently, a hearing officer found that the board’s decision to discharge Imoukhuede was arbitrary and capricious.

At the board’s special meeting to vote on whether to accept the hearing officer’s determination, Imoukhuede’s husband initially indicated he would abstain from voting. However, the vote ended in a 3-3 tie, and Mr. Imoukhuede reversed his position and cast the deciding vote to reinstate his wife. He similarly cast his vote in favor of the payment of back pay and attorney’s fees for his wife at a later board meeting.

A taxpayer, Frederick Veazey, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking a determination that the board conducted an illegal vote by allowing Mr. Imoukhuede to cast votes benefiting his wife, in violation of the board’s anti-nepotism policy, as well as a claim seeking recovery of fraudulently obtained public funds. The trial court dismissed Veazey’s complaint, concluding that the Administrative Review Law was the only avenue of review, and because Veazey was not a party to the administrative proceeding, he lacked standing to bring his claims.

In reversing the circuit court, the First District of the Illinois Appellate Court in Veazey v. Rich Township High School District 227 noted that nothing in Veazey’s complaint challenged or sought review of the merits of the administrative decision, i.e. whether Imoukhuede should be reinstated or awarded back pay and attorney’s fees. Rather, Veazey’s complaint was directed at the legality of the board’s vote. The court found that without standing, there would be no means for non-party individuals to hold a board accountable for its conduct in acting contrary to its governing policies. The court further rejected Imoukhuede’s contention that the board’s anti-nepotism provision was merely informal guidance and not a rule that can be judicially enforced.

While the court ultimately remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings, the implication is clear—board policies are binding rules, not merely suggestions, and a taxpayer has standing to challenge the legality of board action that runs counter to those policies.

Please contact Heather Brickman with any questions about how this ruling or particular board policies may affect current or future resolutions in your district.