Mayor Eric Kellogg had to like his chances when Harvey Public School District 152 voted to select a new superintendent.
Of the school board members who voted 4-2 for Kellogg to lead the district, one is his sister, one is his cousin and two are on the city payroll, working under Kellogg.
The board did not conduct a search or interview for a successor to Supt. Lela Bridges, who is retiring in June.
Instead, board members tapped Kellogg as "superintendent designate." For seven years he has led south suburban Harvey, an impoverished city of 30,000 plagued by crime, scandal and red ink.
"If I were a voter in Harvey, I would be very concerned with those conflicts of interest," said David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Kellogg, 54, is poised to take over one of the poorest districts in the state. Nearly 96 percent of the 2,600 students in the elementary school district are low-income, Illinois school report card data show.
Kellogg could be in line for a hefty pay raise, though he has not been offered a superintendent contract. He makes nearly $107,000 a year as District 152 assistant superintendent, while Bridges makes $202,000 a year. Kellogg also makes nearly $60,000 a year as mayor and has a $30,000 expense allowance.
The school board named him "superintendent-designate" at a Nov. 16 board meeting and asked Bridges to train Kellogg to replace her. The meeting agenda did not say the school board would vote on Bridges' successor.
The Tribune started asking questions and requesting public documents in January. The district posted the superintendent's job on its Web site for five days in mid-February. Six people applied, including Kellogg. It's not clear what the search means for his status as "superintendent-designate."
There's nothing illegal in Illinois about running a school district and a city at the same time or receiving a promotion from a board that includes relatives and city employees. School districts often promote from within, but allowing someone to have those two taxpayer-funded jobs is unusual, experts say.
Decisions could be influenced by the health of the district or city finances, or by hiring relatives or contractors who donate to Kellogg's political war chest, said Robert Strauss, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied government influence on public schools.
"If (Kellogg is) going to wear both hats, that in itself creates all sorts of questions about does he have enough time, because managing a school district and a municipality, no matter how small or how large, is each a pretty big job," Strauss said. "And the usual thinking is schools are kept separate from cities."
Kellogg said he would talk about his potential new job but that he needed Bridges' permission.
"I truly appreciate you giving me this opportunity to talk with you because I certainly have a plethora of things" to speak about, Kellogg said in a phone call last month. "If I can get clearance, I certainly would love to talk to you."
Bridges said she granted Kellogg permission to talk to the Tribune. But he refused on multiple occasions, eventually saying after a school board meeting that the entire board would have to grant him permission.
Three of the four board members who voted for Kellogg to become superintendent-designate refused to comment. They are board President Tyrone Rogers, who makes $43,264 a year as a Harvey parking lots supervisor; George Robinson, who makes $29,994 as a coordinator at the Harvey Community Center; and Kellogg's sister, Joyce Kellogg-Weaver.
Board member Linda Hawkins, Kellogg's cousin, said he is "perfectly qualified." She pointed to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley when asked if Kellogg could juggle two big jobs.
"Mayor Daley does it all the time," Hawkins said. "He is the mayor of the city, and he's over the schools. He appoints his school board and superintendent and everything."
Kellogg, who has been District 152's assistant superintendent since 2001, has a master's degree in education and is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership at Argosy University. He began his career as a gym teacher.
School board member Gloria Johnson, a retired educator, said she felt the decision was rushed and voted against the promotion.
"I feel that (superintendent is) a job that requires quite a bit, and I also feel that the mayor's job requires quite a bit," said Johnson.
School board member Keith Price, a Harvey alderman, indicated he's worried about Kellogg taking over the schools given his track record with the city.
"With my time in this city and just with him being the mayor, I would not want him to be over another large budget," Price said.
Harvey, a once-bustling industrial town, started its budget year more than $13 million in debt.
Kellogg has at least five relatives on the city payroll, including Harvey's highest-paid employee, his niece Bettie Lewis, who makes nearly $170,000 a year as city attorney.
The city's claim to fame now is its abandoned Dixie Square Mall, which has been shuttered since 1979 but was used for an infamous car chase scene in the 1980 film "The Blues Brothers."
Harvey's dismal record of unsolved violent crimes and allegations of police abuse have led to dozens of lawsuits and prompted the FBI, state and county agencies to raid the department.
In January 2007, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama delivered a speech in Harvey honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr..
"Some folks here in City Hall think that maybe the office that they possess is because they're so special, it is supposed to be a place where they can help their family and friends instead of helping the people who elected them," Obama said.
Voters re-elected the Harvey native to a second four-year term in 2007. He gives back to his community with book-bag giveaways, free prom gear for girls who can't afford it and $100 checks for top students.
Nichele Camphor, 40, who has four children in District 152 schools, said she thinks Kellogg needs to reduce crime and clean up a city checkered with abandoned buildings before he takes on another busy job.
James Lee, whose third-grade daughter goes to Bryant Elementary School in District 152, was concerned about the mayor taking another important job given his reputation.
"There's a trust issue there," Lee said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun