New COD trustee tells residents closing Waterleaf restaurant an option
Newly seated College of DuPage board member Frank Napolitano says closing the school's Waterleaf restaurant is one option that may be considered as he and other trustees seek to reform the community college.
Two days after becoming a COD trustee, Napolitano held a town hall-style meeting Saturday in Naperville to talk to residents about the Glen Ellyn-based school, which is facing state and federal investigations and questions about its spending practices.
It didn't take long for one of the dozen people who attended Saturday's meeting to mention the Waterleaf.
The fine-dining restaurant has never made a profit and has lost more than $1.8 million since opening in October 2011.
"I am here to implore, beg and plead that you guys start being fiscally responsible and perhaps consider closing the restaurant, which is losing a half-million dollars a year of our tax dollars," Naperville resident Jerry Schilling said to Napolitano.
Napolitano responded by saying the board needs to "look at options" for the Waterleaf.
"Closing it is one of them," Napolitano said. "Any restaurant in the real world can't afford to lose a half-million dollars a year because they don't have the taxpayers to lean on."
Napolitano said another possibility could be to get COD students more involved in the Waterleaf. He said it's being used as a learning lab for students only once a week.
In the meantime, Napolitano and his political allies on the board -- Charles Bernstein, Deanne Mazzochi and Kathy Hamilton -- last week began implementing some sweeping reforms at COD. One the actions suspended all house accounts for the Waterleaf and other expenses. It recently has been revealed that school administrators and board members spent taxpayers' money on meals and drinks for themselves at the restaurant.
"There should be no more of that open spending," Napolitano said.
Meanwhile, Napolitano said the next steps for the board include conducting an internal investigation of the college's operations and governance. A law firm has been hired to do the probe over the next four months.
He said he hopes the internal investigation is completed within that time so the board can act quickly to fix any problems that may be discovered.
"We need to restore the public trust in this fine institution because it is still a great institution," Napolitano said.