COD board leader reviewing alcohol, dining reimbursement policies

Erin Birt wants to end alcohol reimbursement, examine dining expenditures and other policies

The chairman of the College of DuPage board says she wants to adopt new policies in the next two months to “ensure the academic integrity of the college remains strong.”

Erin Birt issued a memo Wednesday that appoints four members of the seven-person board to review two issues. The first is an “extensive” review of the college's expense and procurement policies. The second is a review of the College of DuPage Foundation Board.

“As chairman of the board of trustees, I am deeply troubled by the recent events,” Birt wrote. “It is disheartening that we find ourselves in this situation.”

But at least one board member, Kathy Hamilton, called Birt's appointments “a little too little and a little too late.”

“This is a silly memo and a nonserious response to the overwhelming issues” at COD, she said.

The memo, she said, demonstrates Birt “cannot understand the magnitude of governance issues needing to be addressed by board action.”

The board has come under fire for giving school President Robert Breuder a $762,868 package to retire about three years earlier than his existing contract's expiration date.

The Glen Ellyn-based college also has been criticized after a former part-time employee was charged with stealing more than $200,000 from the campus radio station over multiple years.

Others say significant financial losses at the school's Waterleaf Restaurant highlight the need for greater oversight.

The barrage of criticism prompted state lawmakers to ask the college to approve funding for a voluntary multiyear performance audit of the college. But COD trustees failed to schedule a meeting this week to authorize spending up to $234,000 for Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland to conduct the probe.

Despite the firestorm, Birt wrote in her memo that “the academic integrity of the college remains strong.”

She said the board “must take immediate and long-term action that is in the best interest of the school, our students and the community.”

Birt appointed trustees Kim Savage and Hamilton to review best practices for approving expenses for an institution of COD's size.

“We will review all travel and dining expenditure policies, as well as procurement policies related to the college and the board,” Birt said. “I have authorized the preparation of a draft policy that will prohibit reimbursements for alcohol.”

She asked Hamilton and Savage to work with COD's lawyers and the public accounting and consulting firm of Crowe Horwath LLP to develop recommendations for the full board to consider.

Meanwhile, trustees Dianne McGuire and Allison O'Donnell have been appointed to develop recommendations regarding the COD Foundation Board.

“We will review the foundation board's relationships between its members and the college and the procurement processes of the foundation board,” Birt wrote.

Birt said all the appointments are for the next 60 days because “there may be transition on the board” after next month's election. A dozen candidates are vying for three seats on the board.

Hamilton, a frequent critic of what she believes has been questionable financial management at the school, said she's not convinced Birt is sincere.

“It's such a weak response it's hard to take it seriously,” she said.

Hamilton, who has been calling for a performance audit of the school, said Birt's proposal doesn't go nearly far enough to address the financial issues at the school.

“Let's just run the college right,” she said.

Nevertheless, Hamilton said she will work with Savage to look into the area they've been assigned.

But, she said, “It indicates her (Birt's) lack of understanding at best and at worst, it's a pathetic political response.”

• Daily Herald staff writer Bob Smith contributed to this report.

Erin Birt
Kathy Hamilton
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