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updated: 4/14/2015 7:02 AM

COD Foundation: No special treatment for board members' contracts

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  • College of DuPage board of trustees member Dianne McGuire, left, listens to Susan Lang Berry, president of the COD Foundation board, talk about the mission of the foundation.

      College of DuPage board of trustees member Dianne McGuire, left, listens to Susan Lang Berry, president of the COD Foundation board, talk about the mission of the foundation.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Susan Lang Berry, president of the College of DuPage Foundation, right, talks about the members of the board who work for companies that do business with the college.

      Susan Lang Berry, president of the College of DuPage Foundation, right, talks about the members of the board who work for companies that do business with the college.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

Even though six people on the College of DuPage Foundation's 20-member board have done work for the school, none have been given preferential treatment when it comes to awarding contracts, officials said Monday.

COD officials met with media members Monday to fend off criticism that vendors for the Glen Ellyn-based college have benefited by having representatives on the school's foundation board. There were eight until two of them -- attorneys Steven Ruffalo and Kenneth Florey -- resigned recently from the foundation board.

"The contracts that have been given to individuals who later may have become foundation board members -- or who were then foundation board members -- have all been competitive," said college Trustee Dianne McGuire, who is examining the relationships between foundation board members and the college.

But critics, including outspoken Trustee Kathy Hamilton, have complained that many contracts have gone to foundation board members.

"Some $200 million in no-bid contracts for insiders is quite enough to know that the relationship will require new thinking," said Hamilton, who was able to get three political allies elected to the COD board during last week's election.

"That new thinking cannot be based on today's PR spin," Hamilton said. "The investigations are only beginning. We await a full record before starting our thorough deliberative process."

McGuire was joined by other representatives of the foundation, which raises money to increase educational and cultural opportunities for the school.

"We have so many wonderful people who are volunteering their time to the foundation," said Susan Lang Berry, the foundation's president. "As different questions have been asked and different things have been published, we have felt that the primary focus has been taken off the good works that they do and the good work of the foundation."

Normally, the foundation makes news only when it's awarding scholarships for students or hosting a large fundraiser.

But these aren't normal times at COD's campus.

The college has been under intense scrutiny since last summer, when school President Robert Breuder lost a $20 million state grant after his candid email -- intimating that the school create a reason it needed the money -- was made public.

The controversy intensified in January when school trustees approved a $762,868 buyout package for Breuder, who is scheduled to retire next March.

In addition, government watchdog groups have raised questions about the school's finances and an apparent lack of oversight by trustees.

Some criticism centered on Carla Burkhart, who sits on the foundation board.

Burkhart is president of Herricane Graphics, a West Chicago-based company that was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to design signs for COD. That was part of two no-bid contracts that refer to Burkhart repeatedly as an architect -- even though she isn't one.

Burkhart has said she never claimed to be an architect. COD officials say they used boilerplate contracts, and one of them included an addendum indicating Burkhart's work wasn't architectural in nature.

Nevertheless, a complaint was filed against Burkhart with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The state agency is investigating.

Then it recently was revealed that DuPage County prosecutors issued three subpoenas to the college. One of the documents -- dated Feb. 5 -- showed that investigators sought copies of the school's employment agreements and contracts with Burkhart and Herricane Graphics.

Sources have said a separate subpoena was issued to the foundation, but that one has been withdrawn by the state's attorney's office.

Meanwhile, COD board Chairman Erin Birt assigned McGuire and outgoing Trustee Allison O'Donnell to review the relationships between the foundation members and the college.

Four firms received 10 construction management contracts totaling more than $238 million over the past seven years, including some that now have employees serving as foundation board members.

But college officials say eight of those 10 projects were completed under budget, and those firms pocketed an average of 2.5 percent of the total contracts, or almost $5.9 million combined, according to a report the college issued Monday that was generated by the Legal Information Institute in New York.

The rest of the funds went to pay subcontractors, who were chosen through a competitive bidding process, they said.

But college officials also denied a Daily Herald open records request for invoices related to many of those construction projects.

Mortenson Construction, whose Higher Education Construction Executive Sheryl Van Anne now serves as a foundation board member, made more than $3.3 million from the nearly $150 million in construction contracts the company was awarded, according to the report.

Foundation officials declined to release how much money the foundation receives in donations from COD vendors and their employees, saying the information is private.

In the meantime, McGuire said she and O'Donnell "will probably suggest a policy" once their review of the foundation is completed.

It appears unlikely the proposed policy will prevent foundation members from receiving contracts from the college in the future.

McGuire said it's not unusual for a college's vendors to serve on the school's foundation board as long as the contracts they receive are competitive.

Lang Berry said it would be a bad idea to exclude employees of vendors from serving on the foundation board.

She said foundation board members who work for COD vendors didn't start in their volunteer roles until after their companies were doing business with the college.

"The people who work for the college are very passionate about the college and want to give back," Lang Berry said. "To exclude them would be detrimental."

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