Question on College of DuPage trustee's role goes to attorney general

The inquiry into whether College of DuPage Trustee David S. Olsen can simultaneously serve as a Downers Grove commissioner came from one of his peers on the village council, the Daily Herald has learned.

"It just seemed like a question worth getting a straight answer to," said Commissioner Bob Barnett, who sent the email to DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin on March 10 asking for a legal opinion.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman with the Illinois attorney general's office confirmed that Berlin has since forwarded the inquiry to their office - and that the request is pending.

"I have no idea whether or not they're doing anything with it or plan to do anything with it," Barnett said. But, he said, the attorney general's office "should clarify it for everyone."

Olsen, who has served on the Downers Grove council since 2013, was named last month to a vacant seat on the panel that oversees the state's largest community college.

Olsen was appointed by Lazaro Lopez, chairman of the Illinois Community College Board, after the deeply divided COD board was unable to select a replacement for Kathy Hamilton, who resigned unexpectedly in December. Olsen is scheduled to serve until the April 2017 election.

Olsen has made it clear from the outset that while he plans to seek re-election in Downers Grove, he has no intention of running for the COD seat next spring.

On Wednesday, he reiterated his view that there's no conflict of interest in serving both roles. He said he will recuse himself from any votes that might involve or give the appearance of such a conflict.

In addition, Olsen noted that while he receives $2,400 a year as a Downers Grove commissioner, he receives no pay as a COD trustee.

"This is not an issue where I'm trying to double dip," he said.

Olsen said he was surprised to learn that Barnett contacted Berlin's office; Berlin has refused to identify who submitted the inquiry.

When contacted by the Daily Herald, Barnett acknowledged he didn't reach out to Olsen - or anyone else on the Downers Grove council - before sending his email to the state's attorney.

"I'd love to understand what his concerns are and why he felt the need to do that," Olsen said.

Barnett said he wanted to get an answer because Joseph Wozniak, a member of the COD board, questioned whether Olsen could serve in dual roles.

"It seems like there's a question as to whether or not these two positions are compatible," Barnett said. "I think that the right person to answer that question is the attorney general."

In his letter to Berlin, Barnett said there are "certain intergovernmental agreements, TIF agreements and the like already in place and others which may be under consideration that place into question the ability of an individual serving in both capacities to provide assurance to the public that they are serving each board appropriately."

Olsen has said he sought legal guidance from several sources before accepting the COD post.

Since joining the COD board, he has broken the deadlock that formed between board members who were elected last spring - Deanne Mazzochi, Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein - and holdover trustees Erin Birt, Dianne McGuire and Wozniak. Olsen has sided with the newcomers, who ran together as the "Clean Slate," on several key issues, including providing Berlin with records of closed meetings the state's attorney sought involving contract extensions for former school president Bob Breuder.

Bob Barnett
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