Three COD trustees skip meeting after agenda dispute
Three College of DuPage trustees skipped a special Thursday night meeting they scheduled after three other members of the bitterly divided board started their own meeting with an agenda they created.
Trustees Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt and Joseph Wozniak called for a 7 p.m. special meeting to be held so the board could, among other things, reorganize in the wake of former Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton's Dec. 13 resignation.
When Hamilton stepped down, it left a hole on the board and eliminated the four-person majority that Hamilton and her allies -- Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano -- had created after last spring's election.
After McGuire, Birt and Wozniak called their meeting, Mazzochi, Bernstein and Napolitano released a second agenda that contained all the same items. But several items were presented in a different order. It also had items requested by Mazzochi, Bernstein and Napolitano.
Mazzochi set the start time for the second meeting at 6:45 p.m. -- 15 minutes before the meeting scheduled by McGuire, Birt and Wozniak.
On Thursday night, McGuire, Birt and Wozniak responded by not showing up to the 6:45 p.m. meeting and announcing that they were canceling the later meeting.
In a written statement, the three absent trustees accused Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein of "playing dirty political games by undermining a special meeting called by three trustees."
Mazzochi, the board vice chairwoman, said she invited Birt and McGuire to participate in an agenda planning meeting. She also asked McGuire if she would agree to add and move items around on the first agenda. Mazzochi said McGuire declined that offer.
"It's unfortunate that they chose not to be here," Mazzochi said after the meeting.
McGuire, Birt and Wozniak said they scheduled the special meeting because Mazzochi removed discussion items from the agenda of the Dec. 17 meeting. The trio refused to attend the December meeting in protest.
Issues McGuire, Birt and Wozniak say they want to discuss include restarting the search for a new college president to replace Robert Breuder, who was fired in October. They also want to revisit the continued employment of three attorneys and reinstate COD's membership in the Illinois Community College Trustees Association.
They said in their statement that Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein "intentionally interfered" with Thursday night's special meeting "by scheduling a competing meeting, in the same College of DuPage meeting room."
"Trustee Mazzochi says that she wants civility among COD trustees," McGuire said in a statement. "But her actions in hijacking a meeting scheduled three weeks ago shows that Mazzochi has no interest in civility or bringing the board together."
Mazzochi said "we're just going to have to take things day by day."
"We covered a lot of ground tonight. I would have liked them to be here and to get their input on things," she said.
The latest battle for power on the board comes after COD was put on two years' probation by the Higher Learning Commission for a variety of concerns, including the inability of board members to work together.
District 205 resident Julia Beckman called the conflict between the two sides "unfortunate"
"I really hope that you can all work together," she said. "Your agenda is long, it's detailed, it's important. Please, let's work together."
Karol Sole of Westmont said she felt the two agendas made it look like Mazzochi, Bernstein and Napolitano did not want to work together with the other board members.
"Instead it appears that you've chosen to try to trump them by getting together at 6:45," she said. "Did you really expect them to come? Did you really? Or are you just trying to make them look bad?"
College of DuPage English professor Jackie McGrath urged the board to take the school's probation seriously. She said the three trustees who "truly care about the college are sitting in front of us" and asked them to follow through with directing acting interim President Joseph Collins to modify annual goals, to account for how he will get the school back on track.
At the end of Thursday's meeting, a visibly frustrated Bernstein pleaded for the three absent trustees to attend the board's next meeting.
"We don't have to agree on everything. But it shouldn't be hard for us to agree to pass the resolutions necessary to run the college," he said. "People's educations are at stake, livelihoods and careers are at stake, and a great college is literally hanging in the balance."
"My God," he added angrily, "you gotta be here. You cannot keep doing this."