Bellwood Dream Team gains majority board, library reform  

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Correction:  Dorothy Clark-Smith is the President of Bellwood Library.

By Staff Reporter

BELLWOOD | On the heels of rising tension between factions among Bellwood Library Board of Trustees, the library has a new majority board.

The board appointed two new members and voted in officers — roughly five months after the April 4 elections, during its September board meeting.

The Bellwood Dream Team; Dorothy Clark-Smith, Deborah Giles, and Connie Riales, were elected the library board’s president, vice president and secretary, respectively.

Two new members appointed by the board were, Rev. Michael Horton, a former library board member, and Gloria Ward.  The Dream Team now consists of a five-member majority that replaces the board majority formerly lead by board president Mary Clements.

The Sept 4 meeting is the first regular meetings since February.  With the newly appointed members the board has the latitude to make binding decisions, such as voting in new officers and a budget, reported by West Suburban Journal’s Kevin Beese.

The board elected to replace Sharon Tharpe and Gwendolyn Reese with Horton and Ward. Tharpe’s seat on the board had been controversial when it became apparent that she had been convicted of a felony, reported first by West Suburban Journal. Tharpe’s residency also was questioned after documents were presented with showing she resided in Chicago.

In an interview with West Suburban Journal, Clark-Smith said that, the board will pursue legal channels to cement Tharpe’s removal from the board.

In Tharpe’s arrest report, obtained by the West Suburban Journal, Chicago police charged Tharpe with disorderly conduct and arson in January 2002 after she had claimed she was the victim of car-jacking on Dec. 30, 2001. She said two men had taken her car on the 1600 block of Drake Avenue. However, police found the vehicle in a garage and on fire at about 8:15 p.m. that same day.  Tharpe was on probation for two years after her conviction, according to court records, satisfactorily concluding that probation in 2004.

Illinois law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from holding public office.  The state’s Officials Convicted of Infamous Crimes Act states “Any person holding office under the Constitution of the state of Illinois and every elected official of local government or of any school district who is convicted in any court of the state of Illinois or of the United States of a felony, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime … shall be, upon conviction, ineligible to continue in such office.”

Riales said she is surprised, with the recent revelations, that Tharpe doesn’t simply move on.  “I would be so embarrassed if that was out about me,” Riales said.  But, she noted, Tharpe is aligned with political heavyweight Chuck Baxter and he won’t go away without a fight.  “He has them all twisting and ruining their lives,” Riales said of Baxter’s effort to keep control of the board.

Library Board minutes show that Tharpe has not attended a board meeting since April 8, 2015.  Tharpe, however, did attend a special meeting on June 29 that led to the temporary suspension of Library Director Jacqueline Spratt. Mary Clements, Janice English, Gwendolyn Reese and Tharpe took the action, as well as passed legislation saying trustees could not sit on other government boards, a swipe at two of the Dream Team members who also serve on the School District 88 Board.

However, their actions were short-lived as Spratt was reinstated to her position after two days of court hearings. Spratt had failed to recognize the special meeting because a prior special meeting had been called for the Library Board for earlier that day. In that earlier meeting, no business was conducted because of the lack of a quorum (a majority of the board’s seven members being present). At that first meeting, Trustees Deborah Giles, Dorothy Clark-Smith and Riales were the only one’s present.

Reese is not recognized as a trustee on the library’s website because she was appointed in March in what has been called “an illegal meeting” by some trustees. At that meeting, Trustee J.B. Carr resigned, but then voted for Reese’s appointment. There was also not 48 hours’ notice of the meeting given and no agenda was posted at the library prior to the meeting, both violations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.  The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is still reviewing the validity of the Reese appointment.

“We are still waiting to hear the ruling from the State’s Attorney on Reese,” Riales said.  Riales noted the Library Board still has not met to elect its officers. State law requires that board officers need to be elected within 60 days of an election. The spring election was in April. Riales said she and her peers are also still waiting for a court date in trying to get Tharpe removed from the board.  “That is about the only way to stop her, a court has to force her out,” Riales said.

Following the new board majority configuration, Sept. 15, Clark-Smith said the first order of business for her and new board majority is to amend the library board’s bylaws.

“We’re going to create an administrative policy manual where we combine the library and board policies,” she said. “The attorney said it’s best to put it all in one book. That’s important because the community has been asking for years to see our bylaws updated.”

Clark-Smith said she is grateful for the outpouring of community support.

“The residents never gave up on the library or our efforts to return it to the community.”

Tharpe could not be reached for comment as of press time.

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