COD critics aim to force Breuder out after election

Post-election ouster bid also would try to repeal buyout

 
 
Updated 3/10/2015 6:01 AM
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  • Kathy Hamilton

    Kathy Hamilton

  • Robert Breuder

    Robert Breuder

  • More than 300 people attended the College of DuPage board's special meeting in January to address the severance package awarded to President Robert Breuder.

      More than 300 people attended the College of DuPage board's special meeting in January to address the severance package awarded to President Robert Breuder. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • More than 300 people attended the College of DuPage board's special meeting in January to address the severance package awarded to President Robert Breuder.

      More than 300 people attended the College of DuPage board's special meeting in January to address the severance package awarded to President Robert Breuder. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

A move to oust controversial College of DuPage President Robert Breuder -- and perhaps "claw back" his $762,868 retirement agreement -- is likely to be attempted by Trustee Kathy Hamilton and other critics after next month's election.

"We need to minimize his influence on the administration and move onto the next chapter," said Hamilton, a vocal Breuder critic who also made no secret of her interest in gaining the chairmanship of the board.

Hamilton is currently a lone voice on many issues on the seven-member board, but she is backing a three-candidate slate in the election that could suddenly reverse the board's balance of power.

Even if her slate is unsuccessful at the polls, many other candidates in the 12-member field tend to side with her criticism of Breuder and COD's financial practices.

She said she believes Breuder, who has a deal with the college to retire in March 2016, should be ousted instead, for cause, with no significant severance payment. She said she believes he should have been dismissed for lack of oversight a year ago when financial irregularities surfaced at the college radio station.

Asked about the possibility that an attempt to oust Breuder without pay could provoke a lawsuit that entwines the college in expensive litigation, Hamilton said, "Let him sue us.

"You have to stand for something," she said, "and I would like to see him defend this (financial) record."

Multiple attempts to reach Breuder through a college spokesman were unsuccessful.

Board Chairman Erin Birt, who frequently has clashed with Hamilton, responded to a phone message asking for her views by sending an email to the Daily Herald.

"The board respects the election process and it will not comment on specific campaign platforms," Birt wrote, "however, the facts are clear that the decision (to adopt the retirement agreement) was voted on twice and passed both times with overwhelming board support."

Opposition to the retirement deal reached in January, consideration of a "forensic audit" to investigate college spending practices, the possibility of repealing the settlement, and attempts to minimize Breuder's role or force him out long before his planned retirement are common themes of many of the candidates in the COD board election -- not just from Hamilton's three-candidate slate.

Hamilton has made herself a visible part of the April 7 election campaign even though her own term on the board doesn't end until 2019. She calls the trio of candidates she's endorsed the "Clean Slate" -- Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano -- and makes no bones about the fact that she intends to work to "accelerate" Breuder's dismissal.

She added there are other administrators at the Glen Ellyn-based community college who could lead the school until a new president is found.

"I don't view Dr. Breuder leaving the college as a crisis," Hamilton said. "I think it would actually improve the college."

The other candidates in the race are Dan Bailey of Wheaton, Claire Ball of Addison, former Trustee David Carlin of Naperville, Roger Kempa of Darien, Matt Gambs of Naperville, Sandra Pihos of Glen Ellyn, Joseph M. Wozniak of Naperville, and incumbents Nancy Svoboda of Downers Grove and Kim Savage of Darien.

Several of those hopefuls echoed Hamilton's criticism of the buyout deal and Breuder's retirement date.

"I don't think the board or Dr. Breuder anticipated how the community was going to react to this situation," Pihos said.

COD trustees immediately came under fire for giving Breuder the $762,868 buyout as part of an agreement that has him retiring roughly three years before his contract was scheduled to expire.

As part of the deal, Breuder will be paid about three times his base salary when he retires. The agreement also requires the school to name its Homeland Security Education Center in his honor.

The retirement package sparked outrage from residents, students and faculty members. Several state lawmakers have proposed measures to prevent other public institutions from approving similar agreements. Others have called for a performance audit of the college's finances.

"I think Dr. Breuder would have preferred to leave a legacy of what he's done at the college," Pihos said. "Clearly under the current conditions, that is not going to happen. So I think it would be in everybody's best interest if Dr. Breuder stepped down sooner."

Ball said she believes Breuder's payout involved an "insane amount of money" and should be repealed. Whether that legally can happen remains to be seen.

"If we can, I will push for that," she said. "But I don't want to say, 'Yes, we're going to get Breuder out and we're not going to pay him' because we don't know. It all depends on the details."

When asked whether Breuder's retirement deal could be repealed, Carlin responded by describing his attempt to seek Hamilton's support for his candidacy. He said she told him that she has "an agenda" to get Breuder fired "on day one."

Carlin said he told Hamilton he couldn't agree to that "without knowing the legal ramifications" and "the financial implications."

"I'm going to be an independent member of the board of trustees," Carlin said. "I am going to consider all the information at hand and make decisions. So it would be premature, it would be irresponsible for any of us to say that we would try to interfere with an ongoing contract not knowing how that contract came about with the current board of trustees."

Savage and Svoboda, who voted in favor of the severance deal, said the buyout was necessary in order for the college to move forward.

"If I had my magic wand," Svoboda said, "it would look different from the package that we've got right now."

But she said the deal that was approved will have "the least financial impact on the college in the long run" because the school won't have to pay Breuder through June 30, 2019, which is when his contract was supposed to end.

Wozniak, however, said the board should have made Breuder complete the terms of his original contract.

"I could understand if Dr. Breuder felt he would like to retire early," Wozniak said. "But we shouldn't be paying him to leave. To me, there were only two choices: Retire early with no buyout or stay until 2019."

But Savage said the college "needed to move on." She said her own support for Breuder was shaken in September when COD's full-time faculty members took a vote of no confidence in the president.

"We were able to come up with amicable agreement," Savage said. "That was how we were able to reach a consensus. Given the parameters that we had, it was painful. It was agonizing."

Meanwhile, Svoboda said, any attempt to fire Breuder would have created another set of problems for the college. Breuder could have filed a lawsuit against the school if he felt he was wrongly terminated.

Legal hurdles are why other candidates should forget about trying to repeal Breuder's retirement package, Wozniak said.

"Dr. Breuder has a valid contract, and he will now enforce it," Wozniak said. "So it's going to cost the college even more money to do that (try to repeal the deal). I think that's something that isn't going to happen."

Still, some candidates say it's something worth pursuing.

Candidate Bailey said he wants an independent investigation done to determine whether Breuder's original contract was valid. And candidate Bernstein said the board should pursue a forensic audit of the college's finances.

"Maybe there is reason to expedite the departure of this president for cause," Bernstein said. "But there are a lot of questions out there and we need a board that is committed to some real investigation of what has happened in the past so that we can move forward."

If there's no way to remove Breuder before next March, Kempa said, the board members could relinquish him of his duties as president.

"He could be placed in an office to do special projects as deemed appropriate by the board," he said.

Hamilton said that outcome is acceptable as long as Breuder no longer has a decision-making role with the college.

"The most important thing is that this college is reflecting the interests of the community," Hamilton said. "Right now, I don't believe that it is. I believe that it needs to be more fiscally responsible. It has to be more responsive to the community. And it has to be a better steward of our money."

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