Mattoon school board member and former 15th district congressional candidate Erika Weaver has also been working as assistant counsel to speaker of the house Chris Welch since the start of 2022, presenting a clear conflict of interest. She attended school board meetings while lawsuits were filed against Gov. Pritzker and speaker Welch by Thomas DeVore, an attorney linked to gubernatorial candidate state senator Darren Bailey and his series of COVID19 restrictions. The lawsuits against Gov. Pritzker were filed on behalf of the Mattoon CUSD2 teachers’ union and parents of students she was elected to serve. These were motivated by the same restrictions as Bailey’s lawsuits against speaker Welch.
During the board meetings that Weaver attended and never disclosed her potential conflicts of interest, she motioned and voted to not only bar the public from ever having access to the minutes of executive board meetings, she also motioned and voted to destroy all audio documentation of those hearings. Any potential evidence in these and other cases were lost. It will be impossible to determine if it would have helped or hurt the case against either Welch or Pritzer.
Weaver also never disclosed her business and working relationships with speaker Welch and every Democratic member of the house caucus during the February 8th, 2022 Mattoon school board meeting when ‘Option 3’ mitigation plan was selected. Weaver, was one of two no votes. Arriving late, Weaver listened to multiple parents discuss their lawsuits involving the school and state officials. Weaver never mentioned her potential conflicts of interest to any school board member, either.
The minutes of the January and February Mattoon School Board meetings outline a painful history for one parent of three children in Mattoon schools that ultimately led to a restraining order being issued. The parent mentioned Speaker Welch’s assistant counsel by name during her public comment. “Erika Weaver has assaulted my parenting directly to my daughter’s face.” At the time, this mother had no idea that Weaver was working for the speaker of the house as assistant counsel. It nets around $60,000 with the position often ending by the end of April. Likely, this Mattoon parent doesn’t know that the Illinois Federation of Teachers had given Welch over $318,000 in campaign contributions.
The Illinois Supreme Court did recently rule that politicians can use their campaign contributions as a legal defense fund. Welch has plenty of contributions where Weaver was left with questions about her campaign finances at the end of her congressional run in 2020. Weaver leveled vague threats of slander and libel against a concerned citizen online who asked about her campaign finances during her school board re-election in April of 2021. This was the month after leaving her position as public defender in Coles County opposite states’ attorney Jesse Danley, who has an open defamation case against the same person that began a year prior.
Under Illinois Rule 1.7, concurrent conflicts of interest involving current clients have to be taken seriously. Here, we do not know where the potential conflict may fall, if at all, which is why these rules and ethical guidelines are in place. It is to protect the school board, teachers, and above all students and the community from exactly this type of situation, which can become a distraction for the school district. In this case, Weaver works for the head of one half of the state legislature which works directly with Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office. Pritzker was being sued by both teachers and parents of students in Mattoon CUSD2. At minimum, Weaver should have disclosed her business relationship with speaker Welch as assistant counsel.
The $60,000 four to five month salary is something of monetary value with an actual contractor who is a party to all state agreements with Mattoon CUSD2. The assistant counsel essential responsibilities are broad and quite specific at the same time. Negotiations between Democratic house members, lobbyists, agencies and constituents could include anyone. It is for this reason that even the appearance of a conflict of interest must be taken seriously. Non-disclosure is in direct contradiction of the Mattoon School Board’s policy regarding conflicts of interest.
Weaver is in a position with the responsibility to identify challenges and present solutions, and destroying potential evidence would be considered a solution to a challenge. Finally, she is in a position where both the people who elected her to represent them and her new boss who is paying her, speaker of the house Welch, are on both sides of litigation with the same lawyer where she sits in a position to impact the results of any court case, and in fact, has done exactly that by voting to delete all audio recordings for two years of school board meetings. If this doesn’t represent a clear conflict of interest that should have been brought to the attention of, at the minimum, the school board and, most likely, the public during contentious school board meetings, then I don’t know what would represent a conflict of interest that should ever be disclosed or discarded.
Efforts to contact other members of the Mattoon School Board have been made. No knowledge of Weaver’s assistant counsel position with speaker Welch was known prior to that inquiry. Other notable democratic voices that have served on school boards were called, none would speak on the record. No call back was received from Weaver prior to publication.