COD board: Little to say or speaking with one voice?
When the College of DuPage board of trustees voted last month to endorse the college's deannexation from the village of Glen Ellyn, the decision was unanimous.
So, too, was it when the seven-member board voted in July to extend college President Robert Breuder's contract through June 2016.
During the public comment portion of a recent board meeting, COD professor John Staeck posed this question: How transparent are the decisions being made at the state's largest community college?
Specifically, he asked, why are so many items the board approves placed on the consent agenda and not discussed separately?
Board Chairman Dave Carlin said there are times when the board disagrees, but ultimately it chooses to act as one, supporting whatever decision the majority decides.
And, he said, any trustee is free to pull an item off the consent agenda for separate discussion and consideration.
Indeed, during Thursday's meeting, Carlin asked if any trustee wanted to consider an item separately -- but none did.
He said the consent agenda, often consisting of "mundane board business," is an efficient vehicle "to move the meeting along." If every item were to be considered separately, there could be long conversations and long meetings, he said.
"If we had three- or four-hour meetings, it wouldn't serve anyone's interests," Carlin said.
He also said there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes that the public doesn't see. Carlin and board Vice Chairwoman Erin Birt have an agenda planning meeting 10 days before every monthly meeting. Board members receive meeting agendas and board packets, which contain details on items to be voted on, a week before the meeting date.
Trustees often email Breuder if they have questions about items on the agenda, Carlin said.
"Don't let a consent agenda fool you and think we haven't reviewed the materials and done our homework," Carlin told Staeck at Thursday's meeting.
Under the state's open meetings act, agendas for public governing bodies are required to be posted at least 48 hours in advance of a meeting. Board packets also are posted on the college's website.
Thursday's consent agenda included such approvals as a $591,250 contract with Pepper Construction for construction manager services for the planned 15,000-square-foot Campus Maintenance Center, and a $562,000 contract with Legat Architects for project architectural services.
The consent agenda also included a $371,000 contract with V3 Companies for landscape construction manager services, and a $357,750 contract with JJR, LLC for landscaping design on the campus.
The consent agenda is also where college officials placed Breuder's contract extension in advance of the board's July meeting. It was listed as a "personnel action" on the agenda; only by searching through the board packet online was it clear that the board was considering the contract extension.
Trustee Nancy Svoboda said sometimes board members disagree -- and those discussions are often had during closed-session meetings -- but if it's known there will be a majority supporting an item, trustees don't pull it off the consent agenda.
Carlin said the Illinois Community College Trustees Association encourages boards to have a unified voice. A pamphlet given to newly elected trustees across the state advises, "As decisions are made, you are expected to speak openly for your point of view. But once the decision is final, you should support the position of the board."
Carlin also cited another set of guidelines from the Association of Community College Trustees, which recommends boards should "speak with one voice, and support the decision of the board once it is made," and "recognize that power rests with the board, not individual trustees."
That one voice is perhaps most evident with respect to the college's ongoing feud with Glen Ellyn over jurisdictional matters, such as building inspections and approvals. Carlin has said three different COD boards on which he has served -- made up of Republicans, Democrats and Independents -- have all been on the same page about COD's building program, and agree the village shouldn't have a say in regulating it.
It may have been little surprise then when the board voted Nov. 30 to disconnect from Glen Ellyn. Trustees met during an hourlong closed session then returned to open session to take a vote.
No trustees discussed their vote during the open meeting portion -- or the day after, when a Daily Herald reporter attempted to contact trustees to seek comment.
After the vote, Carlin, Breuder and COD attorney Ken Florey met with media members. Those college officials, along with college spokesman Joe Moore, have represented the college's position in the public.
Trustee Kim Savage -- who did speak with the Daily Herald on Dec. 1 -- said when it comes to issues involving Glen Ellyn, Carlin is the board's spokesman.
While Carlin has said that it's the tradition of the board to speak with one voice, he also said trustees can disagree on issues and are welcome to talk to the media.