COD trustees tussle over taking documents
Hopes of harmony on the College of DuPage board in the wake of Kathy Hamilton's resignation took a big hit Tuesday when two members -- Dianne McGuire and Erin Birt -- removed documents from the Glen Ellyn campus that weren't supposed to leave the school.
It wasn't the start Deanne Mazzochi wanted one day after assuming the duties of board chairwoman.
A member of the 4-3 board majority that Hamilton had led since late April, Mazzochi reached out to all the trustees when Hamilton unexpectedly resigned Sunday. Mazzochi, who has been serving as the board's vice chairwoman, expressed a desire to work with McGuire, Birt and the third member of their faction, Joe Wozniak.
But on Tuesday, McGuire and Birt went to the Glen Ellyn campus to review the college's legal bills for August, September, October and November.
In order to review the documents, McGuire and Birt were asked to comply with standard restrictions at the school: someone had to watch them, no photographs of the documents could be taken, and any handwritten notes they made had to be copied.
Mazzochi said the procedures are designed to protect the college's interests because the bills also contain sensitive legal information. The procedures preserve the school's attorney-client privilege, she said.
But McGuire said once she and Birt realized how long it would take to review the documents, they decided to leave the school with roughly 500 pages of material.
"We're the client," McGuire said when asked why she took the documents. "We have to do our due diligence. We need to look at this information. We should not be denied access to it in any way."
McGuire said she asked for the documents weeks ago because COD's legal expenses have increased significantly since April when federal authorities launched an investigation into the school, which had come under fire for its administrative practices. There also were a series of internal investigations that led to the firing of three top administrators, including former President Robert Breuder.
"I have never seen the unredacted legal bills from all three (law) firms" representing the college, McGuire said. "This information has never been shared with me. I wanted to see all of it."
Mazzochi said all the trustees must follow the same rules. In fact, she said, someone watched her when she reviewed the same legal bills Monday.
When McGuire and Birt decided to take copies home, acting interim President Joseph Collins, who was in the room, called the school's attorney to ask how to respond.
Exactly what happened next is unclear.
Mazzochi said she ended up on the phone with Birt trying to convince her that the documents should remain on campus.
"I was just trying to see if there was a resolution that could be put in place that would protect the college's interest ... while allowing her (Birt) to have a copy for home as she said she wanted."
Mazzochi said she asked Birt if she would be willing to have digital versions of the documents that were password-protected. Birt refused, Mazzochi said.
"They chose to leave campus with the documents," Mazzochi said.
McGuire, however, offered a starkly different version of events.
"When we insisted that this was our right as trustees (to remove the documents) Vice Chair Mazzochi called President Collins and in phone conversations with Trustee Birt and Joe Collins initially directed Dr. Collins to have us arrested," she wrote in a statement released Tuesday night. "Needless to say, no arrests were made, no security was called and Trustee Birt and I walked out with copies of the documents to which we were entitled."
"Despite all the rhetoric from Vice Chair Mazzochi relative to working together and moving forward," McGuire wrote, "this was a clear indication of business as usual. Trustees Birt, Wozniak and I have been regularly left out of the loop of essential communications and information for the past seven months and it appears that this will only continue, if today's experiences are any measure."
Birt could not be reached for comment.
Mazzochi flatly denied there was any threat of an arrest. She said she believes Tuesday's events are a sign that "everyone has some work to do."
"We have a college to run," she said. "We have some very important tasks to attend to. I would hope that that's going to be what everyone's focus is on," she said.