College of DuPage spent more than $50,000 on outside PR in one month
The College of DuPage paid an outside public relations firm $51,200 for less than a month's work while the Glen Ellyn-based school was being bombarded with negative headlines, according to a newly released document.
Most of the 201.75 hours for which Res Publica Group billed COD came before the embattled community college's board of trustees formally signed off on hiring the Chicago-based public relations firm.
An invoice showing the work Res Publica did between March 2 and March 31 was released late Thursday by the school after trustees took a 6-0 vote to waive attorney-client privilege. Trustee Erin Birt was absent.
Birt was the board chairwoman on March 1 when a law firm representing the board, Franczek Radelet, hired Res Publica.
At the time, officials defended the hiring, saying there was "increased media and public interest on various topics which are related to and/or affect the college's legal matters."
COD has faced a wave of controversy over a $762,868 buyout of President Robert Breuder's contract. That deal prompted several state legislators to propose new laws to prevent similar deals at other public institutions.
There also have been questions about COD's financial management under Breuder's leadership. The president has since been placed on paid administrative leave as state and federal authorities investigate the school.
Birt said in March that it was "clear" the school needed a public relations firm's help even though COD has a marketing and communications department.
But new board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton says Franczek Radelet never should have retained Res Publica without first getting board approval.
"It was under a thin veil of attorney-client privilege," Hamilton said during a special Thursday night meeting. "I believe that when we hire public relation firms through law firms, we need to disclose to the public exactly what we're doing. And we also need to disclose to the board what's being done."
According to the invoice released Thursday, Res Publica performed 139.25 hours of COD-related work before March 20 -- the day the board voted 6-1 to ratify and approve the retention of the firm by Franczek Radelet. Hamilton was the only trustee to vote "no."
The work Res Publica performed included research, dealing with media requests, and consulting with lawyers about FOIA responses, media strategy and board meeting agendas.
On March 31 -- the last day Res Publica did work for COD -- two of its employees spent 6.5 hours speaking to reporters, responding to FOIA requests and consulting with lawyers and administrators.
Two days later, Breuder authorized the hiring of Washington, D.C.-based Levick to handle crisis management for the college.
Randall Samborn, the Levick senior vice president assigned to COD, said the contract his employer has with the college was signed by Breuder.
The firm was engaged under an initial retainer of $14,750, Samborn said. COD is being billed $250 an hour for the firm's services.
"That retainer has been exceeded," Samborn wrote in an email, "but we have not yet submitted a final bill for April."