COD board again approves Breuder deal, despite outcry
Amid calls from dozens of residents, students and faculty members to reconsider, College of DuPage trustees approved -- for the second time in less than a week -- a controversial $762,000 buyout package for the school's president.
The college's board voted 6-1 on Wednesday night to accept the four-page agreement regarding the early retirement of President Robert Breuder. The outcome during the special meeting was identical to a vote the board took last Thursday. Many of the more than 300 people who attended the meeting booed the decision.
As part of the "fourth addendum" to his contract, Breuder is to be paid nearly three times his base salary when he retires on March 31, 2016, which is about three years earlier than the existing contract's expiration date.
Like last week, board Vice Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton cast the lone "no" vote Wednesday night. Before the vote, she called the action "the worst rubber-stamping I have ever seen."
"We should fire Dr. Breuder," said Hamilton, a frequent Breuder critic. "Look at the circus he has made."
A list of other public speakers blasted the deal during the often raucous meeting in the atrium of the college's Student Services Center.
"This is wrong," said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of the government finance watchdog group For The Good of Illinois and the transparency website OpenTheBooks.com. "Operating in secret, conferring benefits in secret and through the mail, hidden behind vague and incomplete agendas, this board has abrogated its fiduciary duty to students, taxpayers and stakeholders.
"Let's take a timeout. open the books on Dr. Breuder's employee contract and benefit package. Start listening to your stakeholders."
Faculty Association President Glenn Hansen called on Breuder to retire now.
"It is time to return the College of DuPage to a state of sanity," Hansen said. "This has to end tonight. We should not continue to have this war of words for another year."
Hansen said it was time to turn the management of the college over to the executive vice president, Joe Collins.
"You have put in place a management system of 10 vice presidents and a cast of many more administrators," Hansen said to the board. "If this team cannot facilitate a national search for a new president, then that is a big problem."
Resident Jill Spealman said that public employees should not get severance pay and called Breuder's buyout deal a "travesty."
"This has been going on for far too long," Spealman said. "I watched the Waterleaf (restaurant) go up, I watched the boutique hotel go up ... I've watched this and I've never come to a board meeting, but $762,000, that got me out of my house."
Before voting, Trustee Kim Savage addressed the public, saying Breuder's contract is a legacy left by board members who are mostly no longer on the board.
"We were not involved in writing the contract, but we have an obligation to uphold the contract," Savage said.
Still, COD candidate Deanne Marie Mazzochi said, there is no reason for the board to give Breuder "another dime." She said the money could be going toward the school.
"We are not in the private sector and these are not private funds," she said.
However, college attorney Kenneth Florey said the change to Breuder's contract had already been approved and couldn't be reversed.
"In my opinion, they (trustees) already voted," he said before the meeting. "The vote from last week approved the agreement."
Florey said the point of Wednesday night's special meeting was simply "to clarify a procedural question." He said he reviewed a tape of last week's meeting and noticed that no one on the board seconded a motion to "call the question" and take the vote on the agreement.
"There was just a little bit of unclarity about whether that was a true motion to call the question or not," Florey said before the meeting.
Florey said he advised trustees to take another vote because he didn't want to spend time dealing with a lawsuit over a call-the-question vote.
Nevertheless, a lawsuit was filed this week by two watchdog groups that claimed the college board approved Breuder's severance package without "providing the required notice to the public, and without any meaningful opportunity for the public to participate in the meeting."
The suit, filed by Andrzejewski and John Kraft and Kirk Allen of the Edgar County Watchdogs, further alleges the board didn't release, prior to last week's meeting, a copy of the proposed addendum to Breuder's contract. It also states the board refused then to give details about the agreement to the public.
Florey says the board's vote last week didn't violate the state's Open Meetings Act.
"It's our opinion that the agenda was correct," Florey said. "There was enough detail throughout the debate."
He also said case law is clear that the agreement didn't need to be recited into the record during the meeting.
"You just have to provide enough information about the agreement for the public to understand what's being approved," Florey said.
In addition to the $762,868 payment, the severance deal calls for the college to name its new Homeland Security Education Center after Breuder as long as he maintains "conduct that is not materially detrimental to the reputation of the board and/or the college."
Breuder, the college's president since January 2009, also will help the board in the search to find his replacement, according to the deal.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives told COD trustees that their actions have ruined the ability of state lawmakers to legislate on their behalf.
"How can I go back and tell (Springfield) that we deserve any money from the state when they see how money is mismanaged at this college?" Ives said. "The right thing was not to award this contract."
Meanwhile, state Rep. Jack Franks said in a statement that the severance package approved by the board is "a misuse of the precious funds that the school receives from the state and a disservice to the students who attend that institution.
"Should the board fail to act in the best interest of the students, I am prepared to introduce legislation that would reduce state appropriations to the college in the next fiscal year by $1,525,736 -- twice the amount of Mr. Breuder's proposed severance package," Franks said.
Savage said after the meeting that Breuder presented the board "with an opportunity to change the terms" of his contract.
"It gives us an opporunity go in a new direction," she said.
She said the board had to make a payment to Breuder in order for him to leave early.
"I think he wanted to stay," she said. "He offered us an opportunity to change the terms of the contract."
Breuder, 70, is paid a base salary of $292,739. With other benefits, he receives a total compensation package of $484,812.
Last April, he expressed an interest in retiring in March 2016, according to the agreement proposal. He and the board spent nine months discussing the terms and conditions. On Jan. 20, he sent a formal letter to the board announcing his intent to retire.
During his time with COD, Breuder has overseen a $550 million transformation of its Glen Ellyn campus. The college also has experienced increased enrollment while the state's community college system struggles with enrollment declines.
But Breuder's tenure also has been marked by fighting with faculty and the village of Glen Ellyn, and he lost a $20 million state grant after a candid email of his was made public.
Breuder has run community colleges since 1981, when he was named president of Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport at the age of 36. He served there until taking the reins at Harper College in Palatine in 1998, where he stayed until he left for COD.