Kathy Hamilton says she thought about stepping down as chairwoman of the College of DuPage board for several weeks before making her resignation official Sunday night -- a decision she called heartbreaking.
In an interview Monday with the Daily Herald at her Hinsdale home, Hamilton said she discussed the decision with her family over the past few weeks before crafting her 10-sentence letter Friday that cited personal reasons for resigning after seven months as chairwoman. She submitted the letter on Sunday.
"There are certain things more important than others," Hamilton said, while declining to discuss specifics.
Hamilton said she and her family -- her husband, a son in college and a daughter in high school -- are not moving out of the county. For now, she said, she's going back to being a full-time mom. Indeed, she was coming back from the grocery store Monday before agreeing to sit down for an hourlong interview in her living room.
"I think being a mother is the most important job there is," Hamilton said.
She didn't close the door to returning to the political arena or seeking office again, and she says she will maintain an interest in the college. She was the highest vote-getter in any COD board election when she was elected to a 6-year term in April 2013.
"I am brokenhearted to be leaving," she said. "I loved COD. I loved the faculty and students and administrators."
When asked what she considered to be her accomplishments, Hamilton pointed to a list of 37 board actions and 13 policy changes since her three-person Clean Slate political allies were swept into office in April and she rose to the leadership role of chairwoman.
The list includes the firing of then-President Robert Breuder and two top COD financial managers, closing the professionally run but money-losing Waterleaf restaurant, and establishing an audit committee that Hamilton says would have prevented fraud that's been alleged at the college radio station.
Hamilton said these "broad, structural reforms" represent 90 percent of the work that needed to be done at the college. The remaining 10 percent, she said, will hinge on finding the right new president.
A 17-person search committee headed by former Illinois House Speaker Lee Daniels is collecting resumes for candidates for president and three other administrative positions. On Monday, the college hosted two public forums to gather input from the community, faculty and others on qualities they would like to see in the next president.
The college still has a difficult road ahead, facing federal lawsuits filed by former employees, including Breuder, two other former administrators and a retired COD Foundation employee, that could take years to resolve.
Many of Hamilton's reforms since April have been approved by 4-3 votes after heated board meeting arguments, which an accreditation agency's report in October pointed to as "unproductive behavior."
She rejected the idea Monday that she had stood in the way of compromise during her tenure.
"My intent was always to get along," she said. "People have to stop fighting and start trusting one another. You can destroy anything with this much fighting and it has to stop."
"Success at COD will not depend on one person," she said. "It will depend on everyone -- every single one -- trying to get along through compromise and understanding."
Hamilton also said her resignation didn't have anything to do with her working relationship with the school's acting interim president, Joseph Collins, who told accreditation agency members in July that Hamilton was "micromanaging" the college -- though he later backtracked.
Hamilton denied she micromanaged the college and said she had a good working relationship with Collins, talking to him every day until a few weeks ago, when her personal matter arose.
"He's been a fine interim president," she said. "He is a dedicated educator and I have the utmost respect for him."
Collins on Monday declined to say anything beyond the written statement he released Sunday night -- that he was surprised to learn about Hamilton's resignation and that he thanked her for her service to the college.
Many of Hamilton's own supporters were caught off guard by the surprise announcement.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, who sits on the COD presidential search committee, says she doesn't know exactly why Hamilton resigned but will take Hamilton at her word the matter was personal.
However, Ives added: "I will say, reform in the state of Illinois is very difficult to make happen. And it wears on the person and it's exhausting. And it takes such a lot of effort to get even such a small way forward. I give her a lot of credit for hanging in there through the personal attacks."
Glenn Hansen, president of the College of DuPage Faculty Association, praised Hamilton.
"Kathy Hamilton was an agent for change who did not silently let the status quo continue," Hansen said. "Kathy was instrumental in setting COD on a path that is supported by the community, as demonstrated by the election results."
Adam Andrzejewski, founder of For the Good of Illinois, a watchdog group critical of the college's spending practices under Breuder, said Hamilton accomplished an "enviable" list of reforms while at the helm.
"Hamilton was the 'one mom' who inspired a successful fight against the business-as-usual machine," Andrzejewski said. "If Illinois had 1,000 Kathy Hamilton's, then the state would cease to have problems. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family during this difficult time."
Hamilton's campaign for the COD board in 2013 was her first run for political office. Despite all the turmoil that's ensued, Hamilton said she has no regrets.
"I would (do it again), because look at what I did," she said. "Look what I contributed to the school. Look what I contributed to the community."
Daily Herald staff writers Robert Sanchez and Kerry Lester contributed to this report.