Editorial: The truths exposed in audio of College of DuPage buyout meeting
When one of our reporters asked College of DuPage Board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton about her comments in a closed-door board meeting on Dec. 18, she said she prefers to talk about the future, not the past.
This was the meeting in which an audio recording picked up Hamilton's voice congratulating former Chairwoman Erin Birt on "phenomenal work" in negotiating buyout compensation down to $762,867 for President Robert Breuder.
"I think you did wonderfully, Erin, in getting that number down," Hamilton said on that recording. "I have to be honest with you. I think you did phenomenal work there,"
It's good to hear that Hamilton was being honest there.
We've long been interested in the audio recordings of the closed-door meetings in which Breuder's buyout package was discussed.
The agreement, characterized initially as a retirement package for Breuder, created a storm of controversy,
We editorialized on the subject on Feb. 1 and asked the board to explain itself, but explanations for the most part had been few and far between.
As the recording now illustrates, it turns out that the board was prodding Breuder out, not congratulating him with a golden parachute on his retirement. We can only assume that the board then decided to allow Breuder to put a good face on it by describing it as a retirement rather than the mutually agreed termination of his three-year contract that it apparently was.
A kind gesture perhaps, but a misleading one that fell short of the board's obligation to its constituency -- and that in the end all but led to the ruin of some of the very board members who were trying to ease him out.
Had Birt and the board been up front with the public at the time, the firestorm that followed probably would have been greatly diminished. People still would have spoken out, no doubt, but likely not with the depth of venom that greeted a compensation package that seemed bizarrely inexplicable.
Meanwhile, on March 5, editorial board representatives happened to meet with Hamilton at her request as she lobbied for endorsement of a three-member slate of COD board candidates (that eventually would win and elevate her to chairwoman of the board).
Since she had been outspoken in her criticism of the buyout agreement, we asked whether she would favor releasing the recordings of the executive sessions in which it was discussed. "I don't see why not," she said.
Following the election, with Hamilton now in control of the board majority and thus having the power to release the recordings, we editorialized on May 7 inviting the board to do so.
Ultimately, Hamilton said she was in favor of doing so but then added that the board's attorney counseled against it.
Whatever the case, last week, when the Daily Herald nonetheless obtained what appears to be a recording of the Dec. 18 executive session, our reporter asked Hamilton about her comments. She refused to discuss specifics.
"This is a very old topic," she said. "The college is moving forward. We're focusing in on educating and that's my focus."
A very old topic? For a variety of reasons, we would debate that, but for the sake of argument, let's assume Hamilton wholly believes it is.
If that's the case, isn't it also a very old topic when Hamilton talks about "clawing back" the agreement as she has on several occasions?
Isn't it also a very old topic when Hamilton challenges the validity of Breuder's contract, as she did in a news release over the weekend, and asks the board attorney to look into the matter?
If it's very old when Hamilton doesn't want to talk about it, isn't it also very old when she does?
Answering that question should be a first step toward the better future for COD that we all want.