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Where did Mundelein High board memos go?
Digital documents missing from revamped Web site
By Russell Lissau | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/21/2009 12:10 AM | Updated: 7/21/2009 9:14 AM

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The recently revamped Mundelein High School Web site has some features the previous version didn't, but it's lacking something some people consider important: the documents for the board's regular meetings.

For about four years, digital versions of those documents - covering purchases, program proposals, contracts and many other subjects - had been available for review by the public at the Web site, mundeleinmustangs.com. Typically they were posted a day or two before board meetings.

Their availability let students, parents, teachers and other community members - and reporters, too - educate themselves about the issues the board planned to debate.

Since the Web site was overhauled July 1, however, those documents have not been available. The agenda for today's meeting is online, but the supporting memos aren't.

Information about personnel decisions, contracts or other potentially sensitive topics shouldn't be released to the public before meetings, Superintendent Jody Ware said.

"Posting it online puts us at risk for (revealing) confidential information before it's acted upon," Ware said.

Legally, Ware and the school board are not required to put such documents online. But open-government advocates say they should.

"The Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act are meant to be floors, not ceilings," said David Morrison, deputy director of the Chicago-based Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "There's nothing that prohibits agencies from going above and beyond. And they should be going above and beyond."

Most Lake County government agencies don't make full document packets available online but some do, including the Lake County Board and the Mundelein village board.

At its meeting tonight, the Mundelein High board will discuss whether such documents should be posted on the Web. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the school, 1350 W. Hawley St.

Board documents first were posted on the Web site because the panel and the administration regularly were being criticized by the public at the time, board member Karen Havlik recalled. That level of criticism and mistrust doesn't exist anymore, she said.

Board member Robert Smith feels public documents should be made public, but he also said posting them before each meeting creates a burden on already overworked staffers.

"It's a lot of extra work," Smith said.

Ware was more concerned about potential legal entanglements than workload.

"Posting confidential information, such as employment recommendations, could lead to some serious liability issues," she said.

Despite the change, Ware insisted the school and board are "transparent." Packets of the supporting documents for tonight's meeting will be available for public perusal in the board room during the discussion, she said.