COD trustee bites back at criticism over thousands spent on meals

McGuire defends thousands of dollars spent on meals, hotels for board, staff

Editor's note: The story and headline were updated Friday, Nov. 21 to correct misimpression that COD faculty was involved in receiving meals and drinks.

An Illinois watchdog group has criticized College of DuPage officials for using taxpayers' money on meals and drinks for themselves and employees at the college's Waterleaf restaurant, with some outings costing thousands of dollars each.

But Trustee Dianne McGuire had a message of her own Thursday night. She called out whom she deemed the “extremist, right-wing ideologues and groups attempting to discredit this stellar institution, its administration and its elected leaders.”

“Edgar County Watchdogs, Illinois Leaks and For the Good of Illinois and their ilk, including members of the Tea Party, feed on misinformation, scurrilous inferences and outright lies,” she said at the college's board meeting.

McGuire came to the defense of the college in light of the criticism that has been lodged against the college in recent months concerning the school's spending.

The most recent criticism of the college board and administration centered on a Freedom of Information Act request filed by a member of the Edgar County Watchdogs.

The group obtained receipts for meals at the college's high-end Waterleaf restaurant and stays at the college's hotel by COD board members and staff that were paid by the college.

One receipt for a board holiday dinner details a $2,331.60 meal that included smoked salmon, pate, chardonnay, a chocolate tart and champagne.

Another receipt details a $3,572.40 senior management team holiday dinner that included drinks.

The findings were published in a column written by Adam Andrzejewski of watchdog group For the Good of Illinois and posted on The Huffington Post.

“I think the most egregious part of what we uncovered was the amount of alcohol that the taxpayers are paying for,” said Kirk Allen, of the Edgar County Watchdogs. “There's no public purpose in that.”

But McGuire came to the defense of the outings in her Thursday speech.

“The various events for trustees and administrators have a purpose,” McGuire said. “They're there to create a cohesive team.”

Since the members of the board see each other only once a month, she said, “that short period of time spent over a meal is helpful to us. And the amounts listed in the most recent expose posted to The Huffington Post and emailed to COD employees amounts to just 0.00017 percent. ... If you divide the dollars that were listed by the $187 million operating budget for this college, that's what you come up with.”

McGuire said the cost of the recent criticism against the college, including the costs of filing several FOIA requests, outweighed the cost of meals.

Besides addressing the meal concerns, McGuire also referred to the May email that President Robert Breuder sent to board trustees that proposed a way to loosen a $20 million state grant that would have funded a teaching and learning center on campus.

“When I introduce Governor Quinn at commencement, I want to help our cause (obtaining the $20 million sooner rather than later) by thanking him for his commitment in front of 3,500 people,” Breuder wrote. After subsequent media attention, the governor's office withheld funding.

She said the assertion that the college made up a need to get the state funding was false, and that the project had been on the college's wishlist for years.

“This treasure is being threatened,” McGuire said of the college. “I am asking for an end to the harassment and the attacks from sources both within and outside our community. COD is a true treasure, one which we all support through our tax dollars for the benefit of everyone.”

Breuder, outside the board meeting, backed McGuire's comments.

“I think the time of the rhetoric is over,” Breuder said. “If you got something that you want to accuse the college of, accuse us and be done with it and then be prepared for the response to it. But you can't go on forever and ever just simply inferring, implying, suggesting, making comments that are full of misrepresentation of the facts, incomplete understanding of the facts. I mean, the time of just simply going up here and engaging in a plethora of rhetoric is over.”

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