$762,000 buyout: How the College of DuPage board race exploded

How the COD board race got so much attention

  • A dozen candidates are vying for three seats on the College of DuPage board of trustees in the April 7 election.

      A dozen candidates are vying for three seats on the College of DuPage board of trustees in the April 7 election. Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer, June 2010

 
 
Updated 4/3/2015 4:42 PM

The race to fill three seats on the College of DuPage board of trustees already was generating interest in December when a dozen candidates emerged amid questions about the school's finances and disagreements over decisions made by the administration.

Then, in January, the COD board voted twice to approve a $762,000 buyout package for school President Robert Breuder, who is scheduled to step down next March.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

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

And what historically has been a campaign that generates mostly yawns exploded into the hottest and most watched race in DuPage County, drawing the attention of watchdog groups from both inside and outside DuPage and organizations from across the political spectrum.

On Tuesday, DuPage voters will sort through the smoke of all those political fires to decide who they want to fill three 6-year seats on the COD board.

The candidates are Dan Bailey of Wheaton, Claire Ball of Addison, Charles Bernstein of Wheaton, David Carlin of Naperville, Matt Gambs of Naperville, Roger Kempa of Darien, Deanne Marie Mazzochi of Elmhurst, Frank Napolitano of Bloomingdale, Sandra Pihos of Glen Ellyn, incumbent Nancy Svoboda of Downers Grove, incumbent Kim Savage of Darien, and Joseph M. Wozniak of Naperville.

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A third incumbent, Allison O'Donnell of Winfield, isn't seeking re-election.

Since COD trustees voted 6-1 for a second time to approve Breuder's retirement package, the candidates have debated the merits of the agreement.

Most of the hopefuls spoke out against the deal, saying the $762,868 buyout figure was too high.

Savage and Svoboda, who voted in favor of the buyout, claimed it was necessary to keep the Glen Ellyn-based community college moving forward.

They said the deal will have the least financial impact on the college because the school won't have to pay Breuder through June 30, 2019, which is when his contract was supposed to end. Svoboda said any attempt to fire Breuder could have resulted in a lawsuit.

But COD Trustee Kathy Hamilton, who opposed Breuder's buyout and whose term doesn't expire until 2019, got involved in the race by endorsing Mazzochi, Bernstein and Napolitano. Conservative radio host and former congressman Joe Walsh -- a former Tea Party activist -- also endorsed the three candidates.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hamilton said she will "claw back" the Breuder deal if she and the three-candidate slate gain control of the seven-member board.

Hamilton argues that Breuder should be ousted, 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.

The possibility of repealing the retirement deal, consideration of a performance audit to investigate the college's spending practices, and attempts to minimize Breuder's role or force him out before his planned retirement became common themes of many of the candidates in the election -- not just from Hamilton's three-candidate slate.

During a recent forum, several candidates said they don't want Breuder to participate in the search for his replacement, even though his agreement allows for him to do so.

Meanwhile, Carlin was the only candidate in the race to defend a May 2013 vote to put Breuder's name COD's Homeland Security Education Center when he retires. Carlin, who is a former trustee, was the chairman of the board that made the decision.

And while both incumbents insisted they have been keeping an eye on spending at COD, their opponents disagreed.

Challengers said several issues, including financial losses at COD's upscale Waterleaf restaurant, highlight the need for the board to provide greater oversight. The Waterleaf became a campaign topic again when it was revealed that school administrators and board members used taxpayers' money on meals and drinks for themselves at the restaurant.

• For details on all 12 COD candidates and their views on several questions facing the school, visit dailyherald.com/news/politics/election/.

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