New COD trustees: Robert Breuder should at least take leave of absence
Members of a reform slate that has gained control of the College of DuPage board of trustees say it's time for school President Robert Breuder to step aside so work can begin to address issues at the embattled community college.
"I think Dr. Breuder needs to be on a leave of absence," COD Trustee-elect Charles Bernstein said Wednesday. "I think we need to find an interim president."
Bernstein's remarks come a day after he and his "Clean Slate" running mates, Frank Napolitano and Deanne Mazzochi, won all three available seats on the seven-member board that oversees the Glen Ellyn-based school. The Clean Slate was supported by sitting Trustee Kathy Hamilton, a vocal critic of Breuder.
"The prospects for accountability and good governance are enormous now for the College of DuPage," Hamilton said Wednesday.
All three members of the Clean Slate said a top priority when they are seated in early May is to approve funding so the state can conduct a performance audit of the college.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican, called for a probe of COD's finances after the board approved a $762,868 deal for Breuder to retire about three years earlier than his existing contract's expiration date. Hamilton was the only trustee to vote against the deal.
Ives said a performance audit would reveal if the COD board has followed its own policies and state laws since fiscal 2011.
Last month, lawmakers gave the existing COD board a deadline to authorize spending up to $234,000 for Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland to conduct the probe, but that deadline was missed.
"This audit will restore confidence and also hold people accountable for either what did happen or did not happen," Ives said. "And until we have an independent analysis by somebody who is well-respected in the state, the citizens will never have confidence that the problems have been dealt with correctly."
Napolitano said the audit is a necessary step in reforming COD.
"That will tell us a lot that we don't already know," Napolitano said. "Whatever is found during that performance audit, we'll need to deal with that and address that."
In addition to the performance audit, Bernstein, Napolitano and Mazzochi said a forensic audit should be done to see how money was spent within several units of the college, including the upscale Waterleaf restaurant.
In addition to the Waterleaf operating at a significant loss each year, it recently was revealed that school administrators and board members spent taxpayers' money on meals and drinks for themselves at the restaurant.
Mazzochi said steps must be taken to ensure all records are preserved. Then trustees need to review those records "with a fine-tooth comb," she said.
"We've got to end the spending of taxpayer dollars on unnecessary things like a PR firm," Mazzochi said. "We need to scrutinize every expense associated with Dr. Breuder and the Waterleaf restaurant."
She also said the board needs to end no-bid deals and review contracts that have been awarded. It then needs to bring what it finds "to light and to the public," Mazzochi said.
With all the work that needs to be done at the college, Bernstein said it may be time for Breuder to take a leave of absence.
"Breuder is going to be leaving in a year," Bernstein said. "I would like not to wait a year."
Hamilton said putting Breuder on administrative leave is "something that's on the table" along with the possibility of repealing his buyout deal.
"It's a legal issue," Hamilton said. "We're aggressively pursuing all of our options."
Breuder could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In the meantime, the Clean Slate members say they want to ensure the college is fully cooperating with several ongoing investigations.
Last week, it was revealed that DuPage County prosecutors have issued three subpoenas to the college since February.
The most recent subpoena, dated March 19, sought documents relating to credit card accounts that are used by Breuder but paid for by the college or the COD Foundation, including copies of supporting documents to demonstrate the purpose of purchases made with the credit cards, reimbursable-expense forms and receipts.
The document also requested copies of payments made by Breuder to the college for any credit card purchases, any college policies regarding expense reports, any correspondence between the college and Breuder concerning the credit cards, and Breuder's travel and local appointment schedule going back to Jan. 1, 2009.
Napolitano said it "doesn't make sense" to have Breuder on campus while there are active probes.
"While these investigations are going on, I think, at a minimum, the administrative leave would probably be a good alternative or a good solution," he said.
Mazzochi said it's "very common" in the business world for someone who is under investigation to take a leave of absence.
"I think every aspect of Dr. Breuder's contracts, performance and day-to-day activities needs to seriously be considered and scrutinized," Mazzochi said. "If the board determines that the most effective way to comply with the (ongoing) investigations is for Dr. Breuder to have a leave of absence, then that's certainly a logical option on the table."
Bernstein said having Breuder not making day-to-day decisions would allow the investigations to continue and facilitate "the kind of healing that we would really like to see."