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Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 01:34 am

Stratton on hot seat

Board mulls payments

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Springfield Park District executive director Michael Stratton is under scrutiny for taking $2,600 in unauthorized payments from district accounts, according to multiple sources.

Meanwhile, a park district board member says he will resign in the wake of an unpublicized meeting of the board on the matter that was held Monday behind closed doors.

“I just wasn’t happy with the way the personnel matter was handled in executive session,” said board member Mark Beagles, who said that he has informed board president Leslie Sgro that he will resign. “I just think we should have made decisive action last night.”

Beagles said that Sgro has asked him to reconsider his decision to resign, but he is “95 percent sure” that he won’t change his mind. He declined to say what sort of action he believed the board should have taken.

“I’m not sure how much I can go into it, being a personnel matter,” Beagles said.

Beagles and fellow board member Gray Noll confirmed that park board members during executive session on Monday discussed a $2,100 check written to Stratton that came from the district’s payroll account. Beagles said the board also discussed a $500 check written to the executive director that also came from district coffers. Board members immediately after the meeting refused to say the purpose of the payments, and Stratton could not be reached for comment.

During the closed-door session, Stratton characterized the $500 payment, which he has paid back, as an advance on salary, Beagles said. The executive director described the $2,100 payment as cashing in vacation time, Beagles said, and defended the payment by saying such payouts are allowed by collective bargaining agreements. However, Stratton, who is paid more than $95,000 a year, is not a member of a union with a collective bargaining agreement with the district.

"My main concern is, number one, who authorized this?" Beagles asked. "I think as a steward of the taxpayers' money, we want to make sure that any check written out of the ordinary, we have justification for it."

The executive session held Monday was, at least technically, a meeting of the board’s finance and personnel committee that includes four members of the seven-member park board. However, Sgro, who is not on the finance committee, and Noll, who also is not on the finance committee, attended the executive session. Board member Brian Reardon, who is on the finance committee, did not attend the committee’s brief public meeting or the ensuing executive session that lasted more than 90 minutes.

The state Open Meetings Act requires advance notice of meetings of public bodies such as the park board. However, committees of public bodies such as the park district’s personnel and finance committee are not prohibited from inviting whomever they wish to attend executive sessions, even if invitees are members of the larger public body, according to Don Craven, a Springfield attorney who specializes in open-government law.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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