College of DuPage trustee: $3.5 million in legal, consultants fees in 7 months
College of DuPage Trustee Dianne McGuire said Wednesday the school has spent more than $3.5 million in legal and financial consultant fees the past seven months "chasing a manufactured crisis."
McGuire submitted to the Daily Herald a month-by-month breakdown of legal fees totaling almost $2.2 million paid between May and November to three law firms. Additionally, she said, the college has paid Alix Partners more than $1.3 million to replace two top-ranking finance administrators fired this fall.
McGuire said COD legal fees usually amount to $550,000 a year.
"For the past 18 months we have seen our legal bills climb precipitously as the college has tried to deal with a very strategic, very destructive effort to undermine the public's confidence in the management of the institution, which has resulted in various investigations, none of which, to date, have turned up anything of consequence," she said in a statement.
McGuire made her comments before the school announced that it had been put on two years' probation by the Higher Learning Commission, an agency that accredits more than 1,000 colleges and universities over a 19-state area. The commission criticized COD because of concerns related to operating with integrity and governance of the college.
Talking to the Daily Herald before that report was made public, McGuire noted that the school's 2014-15 audit was "clean."
"So much for the financial mismanagement," McGuire said. "I see this spending as a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. And now we have two serious federal lawsuits for unlawful dismissal hovering on the horizon and more dollars going out the door. When will this stop?"
McGuire said she intends to bring the soaring costs up for discussion Thursday night when the COD board meets for the first time since the unexpected resignation of Kathy Hamilton, who quit with more than a year remaining on her term, citing undisclosed personal reasons.
Hamilton, once the lone wolf of dissent on the college board, supported a slate of three candidates who were handily elected in April, forming a 4-3 majority on the board and electing Hamilton chairwoman.
McGuire and Trustees Erin Burt and Joe Wozniak have been on the short end of several 4-3 votes, including ones to fire President Robert Breuder and finance administrators Thomas Glaser and Lynn Sapyta.
On Tuesday, the day after Hamilton's resignation became public, McGuire and Birt got into an altercation with Deanne Mazzochi, Hamilton's vice chairwoman and ally. McGuire and Birt were told by Mazzochi and interim President Joseph Collins not to remove unredacted copies of legal documents they were reviewing from the Glen Ellyn campus. Both refused, saying they were entitled to the documents.
McGuire further claimed they were threatened with arrest -- something Mazzochi denies.
Mazzochi declined to comment for this report.
The three law firms racking up almost $2.2 million are Schuyler, Roche & Crisham; Rathje & Woodward; and Schiff Hardin. In the seven-month span outlined by McGuire, the Schuyler firm billed $918,005; Rathje & Woodward, $403,317; and Schiff Hardin was paid $870,131.
Each firm had unique roles at the college, which has been in turmoil since Breuder was given a $763,000 severance package to leave more than a year ahead of the end of his contract. A public furor ensued, leading to the April election of Hamilton's slate. Not long after, there were federal and local probes into the college's finances.
After the Hamilton-backed board was seated, it hired Schuyler, Roche & Crisham to conduct internal investigations of the college.
Wheaton-based Rathje & Woodward was hired to provide general legal counsel. But McGuire has complained of the firm's political connections and that it inappropriately billed the college for attending board agenda planning meetings, preparing agendas and scripts for Hamilton to use at meetings -- work that should have been done by administrators and board members.
But Hamilton said the firm spent much of its time responding to subpoenas that sought years of records related to college trustees, Breuder and other senior management personnel, COD Foundation members and entities professionally associated with COD Foundation members. The foundation is the college's fundraising arm.
The law firm Schiff Hardin was hired when the federal probe of COD began in April.
One of the federal subpoenas sought information dating to Jan. 1, 2009. That included bank, credit card and debit card records, personnel records, emails, payment records, meeting minutes and recordings, calendars, and records relating to services, contracts or bids.
A second subpoena issued to the college's Suburban Law Enforcement Academy demanded emails, class rosters, instructor grade certifications, and academic and grade transcripts.
Schiff Hardin already had started responding to the federal subpoenas, so the decision was made by the Hamilton coalition not to change law firms after three new trustees were seated.