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updated: 3/23/2015 9:44 AM

Endorsement: Our choices for the College of DuPage board

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  • College of DuPage, the state's largest community college, has a lot going for it, but regrettably the story does not end there.

      College of DuPage, the state's largest community college, has a lot going for it, but regrettably the story does not end there.
    daniel white | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Of all the elections taking place in the suburbs this spring, the campaigns for three seats on the board of the College of DuPage have become the most electric, generating interest far beyond the district's boundaries.

The past several months have been, you might say, COD's season of discontent, and there's little to suggest the uproar will soon relent, even after the April 7 election.

It has been a spectacle quite amazing to behold -- a unique clash of perspectives, agendas and personalities, the emergence of muscular grass-roots democracy in a sometimes unruly confrontation with stewards who unfortunately have fallen short of managing themselves with the same discipline they have demanded of others.

On the one hand, there is a lot going for COD, the largest community college in Illinois and one of the few that have been successful in increasing enrollments.

We have supported its growth plan. We have agreed with its philosophy that for an institution to achieve excellence, it must look the part. We have appreciated its significant Aaa/AAA bond ratings and its overall financial health. We have recognized its quality faculty. We have valued its vision for the future.

This is not an institution that has been going through the motions and to be fair, those running it deserve credit for that. It has been assertive in its move toward the future, tough-minded in its embrace of its mission.

On the other hand, the story regrettably doesn't end there.

It's true that some of the criticism directed at the leadership has been overwrought and inaccurate, reflexive accusations at times by those who suspect the worst and then either assume it or go off resolved to find a way to prove it.

But there's plenty of valid criticism too. For example: policies that allowed for abnormally high spending by the administration without board approval; excessive dining and alcohol tabs for the board and administration at the college's high-end Waterleaf restaurant; a unique contract for the college president that includes automatic extensions that drove up the college's financial commitment and a clause that subverts democratic principles by trying to require a supermajority vote to terminate; and finally, a generous retirement package for the president that appears to have been granted for no defensible reason.

Twelve candidates are running for three seats on the college board, and the vast majority agree on the same complaints: The board has failed to meet one of its most important obligations -- to provide financial oversight. And the board has followed rather than led its president.

We think President Robert Breuder is a talented executive. While he has a strong and at times difficult personality, we don't think he is the demon he is made out to be. But everyone needs a boss to provide a check against shortcomings, a boss to establish priorities, set parameters and monitor performance. Everyone needs a boss for those reasons, and Dr. Breuder does too.

But for whatever the good intentions of those who serve on this board may be, they have failed as a group to live up to that responsibility.

We believe there are three candidates in the field of 12 who will live up to it -- three candidates with the force of personality, the power of intellect and the devotion to COD's interests to restore the public's trust while building on the college's strengths.

Our endorsements go to banker Matt Gambs of Naperville, patent attorney Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst and former state Rep. Sandra Pihos of Glen Ellyn. We believe these three, all critics of the current board's performance, are by far the strongest candidates in the field.

They offer a variety of attributes and perspectives, and we think that diversity of voices is a good thing for this board. Each also individually offers impressive leadership skills, and those are important too.

Gambs, the current chairman of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, understands the college's role in the business community and has the financial experience to aid the board's oversight responsibility.

Mazzochi is a strong advocate of transparency. We believe she will bring a lawyer's analytical curiosity to board obligations and we hope that will make her a problem solver.

Pihos has the strongest background in education of all the candidates running. She is a devoted public servant and a common sense candidate whose experience would make her a great addition to the board.

With 12 candidates in all, there are too many for us to give our impressions of each, but a few require individual attention.

Two incumbents are seeking re-election. Kim Savage and Nancy Svoboda seem to be caring people. But we asked them why the board awarded Dr. Breuder a $762,868 severance package, whether he was retiring or being forced to leave. Each tried to explain, but their answers were muddled at best. It's hard to know whether even they know why they gave away so much of the district's money.

Meanwhile, David Carlin is a former board member. He is an articulate, ambitious and knowledgeable candidate. But he participated in the creation of Dr. Breuder's contract and never challenged the reporting system that left the board so out of touch with day-to-day spending.

We respect these three and the other six candidates -- Charles Bernstein, Claire Ball, Dan Bailey, Roger Kempa, Frank Napolitano and Joseph M. Wozniak -- and we appreciate their interest in public service.

But the best candidates in this race are Matt Gambs, Deanne Mazzochi and Sandra Pihos. They have our endorsement. We hope you'll vote for them.

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