COD board may ban reimbursement for alcohol

Months after a government watchdog group criticized College of DuPage administrators and board members for using taxpayers' money on meals and drinks for themselves at the school's Waterleaf restaurant, trustees are responding by drafting a policy that would prohibit reimbursements for alcohol.

Invoices from the restaurant show that during a recent 12-month stretch, taxpayers covered more than $4,000 on liquor purchases, another $1,000 on wine-themed prix fixe dinners and an additional $1,000 in tips on those liquor purchases for college administrators and board members.

Of the 115 invoices obtained by the Edgar County Watchdogs, almost 20 percent included liquor purchases of some kind. Dozens of bottles of wine and champagne were charged to college accounts, the receipts show. Most of the liquor purchases were charged to COD President Robert Breuder's account.

Some invoices amounted to thousands of dollars in spending on food and booze.

"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, said at the time. "There's no public purpose in that."

The findings were made public in a November column written by Adam Andrzejewski of the watchdog group For the Good of Illinois. His column was posted on The Huffington Post.

But it wasn't until this week that steps were taken to address the issue.

In a memo sent Wednesday to COD trustees, board Chairman Erin Birt said there will be a review of all travel and dining expenditure policies. Birt assigned trustees Kim Savage and Kathy Hamilton to examine those issues and procurement policies related to the college.

Birt also declared she asked for a draft of a policy to ban reimbursement for alcohol.

On Thursday, attempts to contact Birt were unsuccessful.

However, Savage said a revision of the school's alcohol policy was overdue, adding that she's suggested changes of her own to the document.

Savage said COD's existing policy is "pretty basic" and doesn't cover issues like expensing alcohol purchases.

"It wasn't revised when we started selling alcohol," she said. "It's time that we look at everything related to alcohol."

However, Andrzejewski said the examination of the policy should have come sooner.

"We shed light on the COD alcohol reimbursement problem last November," Andrzejewski said. "Chairman Birt has slow-walked needed reforms for months. Why? The board - minus Vice Chairman Kathy Hamilton - has been approving and participating in the alcohol consumption at student and taxpayer expense."

While the board didn't respond when Andrzejewski's column appeared online, the situation changed when the Chicago Tribune this week published a front-page story about the issue.

"It's in the forefront of everybody's mind now," Savage said. "Should it have been looked at before? I don't know. But we're looking at it now."

On Thursday, Allen said all the alcohol purchases never should have been reimbursed in the first place. "There's nothing in the law that allows public money to be used to purchase alcohol at a university or a college," he said.

After the board approved "tens of thousands of dollars in parties, gifts, drinking and dinners for the president, trustees, and senior managers," Andrzejewski said the policy change is "only a small step" in the right direction.

Andrzejewski added the proposal "certainly doesn't go far enough to stop the culture of student and taxpayer spending abuse by administrators and trustees."

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