Huntley School District Taxpayers Don’t Need to Know If Superintendent Took Vacation Days While on China Junket
It was the fall of 1976. State Senator Mark Rhoades called me and asked if I wanted to go to Europe in September. He had been selected to go on a trip by the American Association of Young Political Leaders and couldn’t make the trip.
I didn’t have a fall opponent, so I decided to go.
Germany was having its elections. We got to talk to the counterpart of Barry Goldwater’s campaign manager the week before the election.
What a bus man’s holiday!
We spent a day in Brussels, went to a NATO support group conference, toured NATO headquarters, where I met a Democratic Party opponent of Congressman Robert C. McClory, went to the Netherlands, met young Danish legislators (they call the waterfront liberals “Railroad Liberals, rather than our “Limousine Liberals”), went to a beach near Copenhagen, took another side trip in Denmark where I learned my minimal German could be understood–at least once–to get directions to a Viking boat museum, took the ferry to Sweden or Norway, stuff like that.
Oh, yes, the association describes it’s objectives like this:
“To enable emerging political leaders in the U.S. to experience firsthand the political and cultural dynamics of other countries; to offer politically active young people in other countries a similar experience in the United States.”
But, as a state representative, I didn’t have vacation days. I pretty much worked every day I was in office.
But it was a vacation, no doubt about that.
Huntley School District 158 Superintendent John Burkey went on a junket to China, as you can see from the front page Daily Herald article above.
I asked two normal reporter’s questions:
- How much was on the taxpayers’ tab?
- Was Burkey taking vacation days?
I was told to file a Freedom of Information request, which I did on July 23rd.
Today I received a reply.
“A total of $900.00 for the registration fee was paid using District 158 funds for Dr. Burkey’s trip to China. A copy of the registration invoice and board approval is enclosed.”
To the question about whether vacation days were used, here’s the answer:
“Information on how specific days by District employees are accounted for is exempt from disclosure per 5ILCS 140, Section 7(b), “information that, if disclosed would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy…”
I don’t suppose Burkey will be surprise if a lot of taxpayers take that answer as a “Yes.”
I can only wonder if Dan Walker’s Secretary of Transportation Langhorne Bond would have replied similarly, had the Freedom of Information Act been in effect, when I sent a tenacious intern to check out every vacation and personal day that Walker political operative Gary Fears had taken.
His job title was “Rest Stop Inspector,” but his real duties, well, let’s just say I was suspicious.
When Fears had used all of his vacation and personal days, he went off the IDOT payroll, which was my goal all along. (Fears ended up getting a loan to build a motel in the MetroEast area the same time Bill Cellini’s group got a loan to build the hotel in Springfield.)
So, there can be legitimate policy reasons to know when people take vacation and personal days.
And, in lots of school administrators’ cases, unused vacation days used to be cashed in at retirement. They boosted pensions, if memory serves me correctly.
Not that Burkey is ready for retirement.
But the taxpaying public in Huntley and Lake in the Hills surely deserve to know whether the school board not only paid the tour’s registration fee, but also allowed him to say he was working all eight of his junket days.