Metro-East News

Statehouse, city council, school district — can Greenwood do it all?

State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, District 114
State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, District 114

LaToya Greenwood holds two elected offices — state representative and East St. Louis City Councilwoman — and is employed full-time as a School District 189 administrator.

As a newly elected state representative from District 114, Greenwood, a Democrat, makes $67,836. She is expected to fairly consider the interests of more than 100,000 constituents from throughout the metro-east, including Belleville, East St. Louis, O’Fallon and Fairview Heights.

As a member of the East St. Louis City Council, she earns $15,000 to do the same for the city’s residents. And as the $93,400-per-year director of human resources for School District 189 in East St. Louis, she’s expected to carry out her duties in the best interests of students and district taxpayers.

Greenwood’s multiple responsibilities will cause her to be absent more than 50 percent of the time this year from her school district job — absences for which she will not be paid, at her request, and were known in advance and approved by her supervisors.

Of seven scheduled City Council meetings since Jan. 12, Greenwood was absent from six of them. She attended the last session on May 12, according to city records.

Are all these jobs compatible, and how can she be in three places at the same time?

“This question has been researched by the National Association of State Legislatures,” said Brian Chap, an adjunct professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “And they concluded ... that in Illinois, a legislator may indeed be dually employed, even if the second job is publicly elected.”

In an email, the Belleville News-Democrat asked Greenwood: “Do you think you can simultaneously represent the citizens of District 114, the citizens of the city and the taxpayers who pay your salary at the school district and be fair to each?” She did not respond.

However, Greenwood did write, “When I’m in Springfield, I remain available to school district staff via phone and email.” She added that since taking office in the state legislature in January, she has worked “to lift up the middle class, strengthen our local economy and save taxpayers dollars by cutting perks for lawmakers.”

The Illinois Constitution prohibits any state representative or senator from being paid at any public job at the same time they are “in attendance as a member of the General Assembly.”

To comply with the constitution, Greenwood notified District Superintendent Arthur Culver in advance that she would be absent from her job on 54 out of 100 work days between Jan. 11 to May 31, when she would be at the Capitol in Springfield. She requested not to be paid for any day she was absent, nor be allowed to “accrue sick days, vacation days or personal days.”

Culver complied.

“Ms. Greenwood’s position is essential to the school district,” Culver said in a written response. “Ms. Greenwood remains available to address any immediate matters for us, despite not being paid by the school district” for days when she is in the General Assembly.

Her City Council pay also was reduced from $625 to $452 every two weeks, although she still receives $500 for expenses for the same period, according to payroll records. She receives $111 for expenses for each day she is in Springfield for the General Assembly .

Not all of Greenwood’s school district work is handled by her. Her immediate supervisor, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Tina Frye, said, “I fill in for her.” Frye also said Greenwood plans her work in advance and leaves instructions at the district. Asked what she does for Greenwood, Frye said, “I guess that depends on what it is.”

A review of more than a hundred rulings by the Illinois Attorney General’s office since 1971 into whether multiple public positions are incompatible, according to civil law, failed to turn up any that addressed Greenwood’s precise situation.

It’s not uncommon for someone serving in one local office, such as on a school board, to have to give up that job if elected to another, such as a city council. If incompatibility is confirmed by a county judge, then the first position is declared void and must be vacated.

In 1999, the general counsel for the Illinois Municipal League wrote, “An incompatibility of office can be determined by examining whether the vested interests of one office directly or indirectly affects the vested interests of the other office.” But this would take a formal complaint and action by the attorney general or a circuit court judge.

Greenwood’s state biography notes that she is on the House Appropriations Committee for Elementary and Secondary Education and thus could vote directly on state aid that might go to her school district. Both the City of East St. Louis and the school district remain under state oversight, which means partial financial control by state officials.

Beth A. Rosenson, a professor of political science at the University of Florida who earned her doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and wrote the 2005 book, “Shadowlands of Conduct: Ethics and State Politics,” said while Greenwood’s multiple positions are not illegal, “From a general standpoint of someone who has written about legislative ethics for 20 years, I can say that there is a matter of what is legal and then there is the issue of appearances.

“If constituents feel their public officials have problematic conflicts or can’t do their jobs well, this leads to a decline in public trust, which is bad for democratic government,” Rosenson said.

John Hansen, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said, “In this particular case, I will point out that (state) representatives always have an obligation to serve their constituents,” but also commented, “Conflict of interest policies generally do not forbid conflicts of interest. Rather, they require that conflicts be disclosed and, if need be, managed.”

Hansen wrote it would be “human nature” to vote on measures that might not be in the best interests of taxpayers from other jurisdictions.

All eight members of the Illinois Legislative Ethics Commission — four senators, including James Clayborne Jr., of Belleville, and four state representatives — were sent questions concerning Greenwood’s multiple jobs and potential conflicts of interest. None responded.

Commission Director Randy Erford said he could not respond to questions because his job is “administrative.”

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer