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updated: 2/26/2014 11:04 AM

COD trustees reimbursed for driving to meetings

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  • College of DuPage Trustee Dianne McGuire was reimbursed $971.05 over the past two years for trips she made to the Glen Ellyn campus for board meetings and other events.

      College of DuPage Trustee Dianne McGuire was reimbursed $971.05 over the past two years for trips she made to the Glen Ellyn campus for board meetings and other events.
    mark black/mblack@dailyheraldcom

  • College of DuPage Trustee Joseph Wozniak received $562.80 in reimbursements to drive to the campus for meetings and other functions.

      College of DuPage Trustee Joseph Wozniak received $562.80 in reimbursements to drive to the campus for meetings and other functions.
    mark black/mblack@dailyheraldcom

 
 

Two elected College of DuPage trustees charged taxpayers more than $1,500 over two years to drive to board meetings and various voluntary functions at the Glen Ellyn campus.

Trustees Dianne McGuire and Joseph Wozniak received 119 individual mileage reimbursements in 2012 and 2013 for driving from their homes in Naperville to the campus and back, according to a Daily Herald analysis of trustee expense reports obtained through an open records request.

These reimbursements were among nearly $50,000 taxpayers covered for COD trustee expenses over the last two years, mostly related to travel, the records show.

The Daily Herald made similar requests for spending reports at other suburban community colleges and will present an analysis of trustee expenses in the coming weeks. However, no other suburban community colleges reported reimbursing trustees simply to drive to the campus.

McGuire's 69 round trips from her home totaled $971.05, while Wozniak received $562.80 for 50 round trips, the expense reports show.

Each lives less than 13 miles from the campus, according to the records. The drives are reimbursed at 56.5 cents a mile, up a penny from 2012.

"I'm a retired teacher with limited income and I don't want it to cost me money to be a public servant," McGuire said. "I don't think it should be an expense to me."

However, some were dismayed by the board's reimbursement policy.

"When you don't think it will get any worse, these officials hit a new low," said Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative organization that tracks and analyzes government spending. "When you're demanding taxpayers pay the cost just to get you to the meetings, that's not serving."

The mileage reimbursements to the campus for the pair could be much more than the $1,533.85 spent over the past two years. McGuire was elected to a 6-year term in 2011. But Wozniak, who did not return calls seeking comment, is in his second term on the board after being re-elected last year. The posts are unpaid.

"In terms of reimbursing local volunteers who serve on a board to travel to and from board meetings, that's an extraordinarily generous benefit and one that's not really seen in most well-run governments," said Laurence Msall, president of the Chicago-based Civic Federation, a government finance research organization. "They may be legally eligible, but it's not a reasonable expense that taxpayers should have to bear. They are certainly free to take a Pace bus."

Less than 40 percent of the reimbursed trips McGuire and Wozniak made to the campus were for actual board meetings, the expense reports show. Most of the pair's campus visits were voluntary, including several receptions for visiting dignitaries or retiring staff.

"I'm there to represent the face of the (college district's) residents," McGuire said. "I am their presence. I'm there to represent the board and the community that elected us."

Other COD trustees seemed split on the reimbursement practice. Trustee Kim Savage said she would seek reimbursement as well, but she often carpools with another trustee. "We are volunteering our time to do this, and the only compensation you do get is reimbursement for expenses," she said.

However, Trustee Allison O'Donnell said she was unaware that her fellow trustees were receiving reimbursements for driving to the campus and back home. She said some on the seven-member board have expressed concern about the travel costs of trustees in recent years, but it hasn't tapered expenses. "I can only control my actions, I can't control theirs," she said. "I'm in the minority. There have been trips I'd really like to go on, but I don't feel comfortable with it when we're asking our faculty and staff to cut."

COD President Robert Breuder said trustees are under the same travel reimbursement guidelines as the college's staff. However, he admitted no staff members receive reimbursement for their daily drive to work and back home. He said the decision to pay those expenses for McGuire and Wozniak is the board's alone. It's a unique practice, the 34-year community college administration veteran said.

"I have no recollection of experiencing that before in any of the other places I've worked," Breuder said.

McGuire said she puts in 10 to 15 hours of "complimentary" work each month as a trustee and understood there would be sacrifices when she sought the office.

"Public service is something that I treasure and take very seriously," she said. "Mileage reimbursement is pretty standard."

But Rasmussen argued that the board's policies don't jibe with accounting practices in any other realm -- public or private. "Should we cover the costs of their business suits?" Rasmussen said. "Shoving every little cost associated with serving onto taxpayers doesn't sit well with folks who see their tax bills go up every year."

Got a tip?

Contact Jake at jgriffin@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4602. Follow him at facebook.com/jakegriffin.dailyherald and at twitter.com/DHJakeGriffin.

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