Metro-East News

Poshard claims sexual harassment, but investigation says evidence ‘insufficient’

Madison County Board fires Kristen Poshard in October

The Madison County Board voted in October to terminate the employment of Kristen Poshard, the county’s economic development chair. She will receive a 30-day notice of the termination, starting immediately, and three months of severance pay, a stan
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The Madison County Board voted in October to terminate the employment of Kristen Poshard, the county’s economic development chair. She will receive a 30-day notice of the termination, starting immediately, and three months of severance pay, a stan

Former Madison County Community Development Administrator Kristen Poshard said she was being sexually harassed by Madison County Board Member Phil Chapman just weeks after her appointment, according to Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler.

Two investigations found those allegations unfounded, Prenzler said.

The Belleville News-Democrat in July filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking a copy of the reports by former Judge James Hackett and attorney Kevin Babb. At that time, the county refused to release the documents.

Prenzler stated in a press release that he now wants to release those reports, but not right away. He wants to give the attorneys five business days to take a first look.

“We just want to be very careful,” Prenzler said. “We want to try to avoid a lawsuit.”

Poshard declined comment. Chapman could not immediately be reached.

Prenzler said he will “permit all the attorneys involved time to review the reports and give them the opportunity to assert any objections to the release of the documents.”

Poshard first came to Prenzler, County Administrator Doug Hulme and Compliance Manager John Thompson on June 7 and told them Chapman was harassing her, Prenzler said. They took the allegations to Hackett.

Prenzler on Wednesday said that Hackett stated “there was insufficient evidence to conclude that sexual harassment as outlined in the county policies has occurred.”

On July 10, Prenzler received another grievance from Poshard. This time she complained about Hulme’s management style and practices. There were no allegations of sexual harassment made against Hulme, Prenzler stated.

Prenzler on Wednesday said Babb’s report contained the following statement: “Given the facts that I have gleaned during my investigation, I find no factual basis to support the allegations made in the grievance.”

In early August after Poshard had been placed on paid administrative leave, the county released some of Poshard’s emails. The emails showed that Hulme and Poshard had not spoken since the June 7 meeting at which the Chapman allegations were made.

Poshard, in a July 13 email to Hulme, stated: “To be clear, as I have stated many times, these personnel issues are all tied to millions of grant dollars. It is extremely hard to get these grants, but very easy to lose them. Your refusal to allow MCCD to stay in compliance with state and federal guidelines and recommendations has put us in a situation where we can potentially lose considerable dollars/jobs.”

Hulme responded, “I have not seen or talked to you since June 7 and that is a long time to be out of contact with you. I scheduled a meeting in advance for this last Wednesday at 1 p.m. You didn’t call me or attend the meeting. You are more than welcome to drop by my office any time and talk, that offer has always been available. I need to be informed of your plans and rationale so I can do my job and be kept in the loop.”

County Board members have already been given a chance to read the reports of Hackett and Babb, as well as the emails between Poshard and Hulme, and notes taken by Prenzler and Thompson following the June 7 meeting regarding the Chapman accusation.

Poshard, 43, was appointed to head community development March 15 with an annual salary of $92,000. Records showed Poshard was not in her office after June 26. Poshard was placed on administrative leave Aug. 3. At that time, Poshard stated she was contemplating litigation against County Board Member Phil Chapman, Hulme and other officials, but declined to comment further. The county board on Oct. 18 voted unanimously to fire Poshard.

John Eccher, Poshard’s attorney, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Earlier this month, Eccher said he expects the EEOC will take six months to investigate the complaint against the county, which is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit. If the EEOC gives Poshard a right-to-sue letter, then Eccher would file suit, he said. He is confident he’ll receive one, but he hasn’t determined where he would bring the suit. If the EEOC does not give the right to sue, then he would pursue other options, he said. He added that he is also pursing other legal remedies.

The News-Democrat filed a suit against the Madison County Sheriff’s Department for denying a FOIA request related to a police report made after Poshard asked for extra security. That lawsuit is pending.

Poshard, the daughter of former Democratic U.S. representative and Southern Illinois University Carbondale president Glenn Poshard, was a controversial appointment for Prenzler, a Republican. Several County Board members opposed the appointment due to her criminal history, including an incident in which she fired a gun through the bathroom door of a boyfriend’s home. She attributed the behavior to past childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her former stepfather.

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer