COD vice chairwoman calls for 'civility as a baseline'
While three College of DuPage trustees boycotted Thursday's meeting and left the rest of the board unable to conduct official business, Deanne Mazzochi appealed to fellow members to "look ahead" and announced proposals to reduce the school's legal and financial consultant fees.
"We should commit to a strong conversion of temperament in this body, one that celebrates civility as a baseline," she said.
Three trustees -- Erin Birt, Dianne McGuire and Joseph Wozniak -- submitted a letter Thursday afternoon to COD's acting interim President Joseph Collins informing him they refuse to attend the meeting or any others because they first want an organizational meeting to be held to elect a new chairperson.
Mazzochi, the board's vice chairwoman, led the meeting and responded to McGuire's finding earlier this week that COD paid three law firms nearly $2.2 million between May and November. Mazzochi countered that legal fees are the result of "external audits and grand jury investigations beyond our control."
"Federal legal compliance is simply not an area where any institution can afford to cut corners and costs," Mazzochi said.
The boycotting board faction's letter also calls for restarting the search for a new college president to succeed Robert Breuder and revisiting the continued employment of three attorneys, and suggests that other issues require the board's "immediate attention." Wozniak said before the meeting he wasn't sure who wrote the letter, but he signed it with the two others.
"Three trustees -- or half of the board -- asked for items to be added to the agenda, including whether to continue to employ Tim Elliott, Dan Kinsella and Andrew Porter as the college's attorneys and whether to restart the presidential search process in light of recent events," the letter says.
Mazzochi said Thursday night the Glen Ellyn school could better manage its legal costs by hiring in-house counsel who would be supervised by the college president, she said, and have a "direct report line" to the board. If trustees agree, she said, money would be set aside in next year's budget for the new hire, who could handle certain legal areas such as Freedom of Information Act requests.
In addition, Mazzochi says she's encouraged Collins to independently post the openings for interim chief financial officer and controller. Those roles currently are being done by Alix Partners, a firm that's been paid nearly $1 million to replace the school's top financial administrators, who were both fired this fall.
Mazzochi said hiring interim financial officials will expedite the transition from Alix Partners to full-time staff, "which will in turn cut costs" on professional fees.
The three boycotting board members do not want Mazzochi to become chairwoman to replace Kathy Hamilton, who resigned her post on Sunday.
Hamilton and Mazzochi were allies on the board along with Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein. McGuire, Birt and Wozniak were allied and were minority members of the board until Hamilton's departure.
"With the resignation of the board chair over the weekend, the board currently does not have a chair," the letter says. "Before conducting any business, the board needs to hold an organizational meeting in order to elect a new chairperson. Conducting business prior to electing a new chairperson will cause confusion as to the leadership of the board."
The trio's absence prompted sharp critique from faculty members and Bernstein, who noted the board, without a quorum, could not vote to pay the bills of the state's largest community college.
"How do you think the Higher Learning Commission will view the deliberate absences of three trustees?" Bernstein asked. "I think that it is extremely irresponsible and does the college no good service."
Collins had said Monday he didn't think the board would need an organizational meeting until April and referred to Mazzochi as chairwoman Thursday. Elliott also said that under state law, community college boards can choose to elect their officers for one-year terms. COD's board has adopted that policy, calling for an organizational meeting annually in April.
Mazzochi echoed comments she made earlier this week, hoping the bitterly divided board could come together.
"Every member of this board is capable of this, and some have even expressed that they are longing for it."
The next board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 21.
• Daily Herald staff writer Kerry Lester contributed to this report.