COD board voids president's contract
A month after starting the process to fire embattled school President Robert Breuder, College of DuPage trustees Thursday declared him an "at-will employee" without a contract.
Trustees, who have been divided on most matters since a new majority won election in April, voted 4-3 on Thursday night to void Breuder's original employment contract, agreed upon in 2008, and all subsequent contract extensions and addendums -- including a controversial $763,000 severance package approved in January by a previous board.
"This vote is what reform is all about," board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton said.
It's possible the vote will trigger a legal fight with Breuder, who's expected to contest the voiding of his contract and buyout settlement. Attempts to reach Breuder's attorney for comment earlier Thursday were unsuccessful.
Still, COD officials say that Breuder's contract and all amendments and addendums exceeded the authority of previous boards and violated state law.
"Because its members are elected on a staggered basis, each iteration of the board has a 'term' of only two years," officials wrote in the board packet. "No board may bind future boards by entering into employment agreements with individuals in positions such as Dr. Breuder's that extend beyond that board's term."
COD officials argue the board that originally hired Breuder didn't have the authority in November 2008 to give him a contract that ran from Jan. 1, 2009, through June 30, 2012. So that 42-month pact and all the moves that extended and modified it are void. That includes the severance deal, which was referred to as the "fourth addendum" to Breuder's contract.
"Dr. Breuder's contract with the College of DuPage has been void since November 2008," Hamilton said. "I am convinced that case after legal case advances the doctrine that one board cannot tie the hand of any future board."
Breuder, who is on paid administrative leave, is scheduled to retire in March.
But being declared an at-will employee of the college with no contract potentially paves the way for Breuder to be fired.
His contract contained a clause requiring five votes of the seven-member board to dismiss him for cause. That would require a fifth vote from one of Hamilton's opponents.
Without a contract, it's possible a simple majority vote is all that would be needed.
The decision to void Breuder's contract comes less than a week after DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin decided not to prosecute a violation of the Open Meeting Act by the COD board in July 2011, when it approved one of Breuder's contract extensions. Berlin wrote that the "admonishment" by the Illinois attorney general's office was the only sanction that could be imposed.
During the public comment portion of Thursday's meeting, Faculty Association President Glenn Hansen told trustees that their vote was an opportunity to send "a clear message and move on."
"Don't mistake Robert Breuder for a leader," Hansen said. "Don't make him a fallen hero. ... Simply make him unemployed."
He then urged the board to say "goodbye to any more failed leadership."
Hamilton became board chairwoman after three of her political allies -- Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano -- were elected to the board in April amid public outcry over Breuder's buyout deal. Hamilton said during the election that they hoped to claw back the buyout and believed Breuder should be dismissed for cause.
Last month, the board voted to initiate termination proceedings against Breuder -- a process that could take months.
COD has been the subject of state and federal investigations as well as internal probes into its financial and administrative practices.
Media reports have raised questions about, among other things, no-bid contracts for insiders and administrators dining at COD's upscale Waterleaf restaurant, which recently was closed.
"The Breuder administration milked the hardworking students of this college like a dairy cow," said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of the watchdog groups For The Good of Illinois and OpenTheBooks.com. "Tonight the people win and the insiders lose."
Also on Thursday, trustees agreed to name the Homeland Security Education Center in honor of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller, a former Wheaton resident and Medal of Honor recipient.