The COD board's agenda divide, explained
Three College of DuPage trustees who boycotted two recent meetings say they want to move forward and eliminate obstacles standing in the way of collaboration on the sharply divided six-person panel.
But based on the agenda prepared by Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt and Joseph Wozniak for a special session called for Jan. 14, it appears board peace may remain elusive.
Opposition trustees Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano are expected to raise several challenges, including whether they must elect someone to lead them after the Dec. 13 resignation of former Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton.
Here's a look at the agenda items expected to trigger the most debate.
Who's the boss?
The agenda calls for electing a new chairperson. But Mazzochi, Bernstein and Napolitano say that's unnecessary because the job rightfully should go to Vice Chairman Mazzochi now that Hamilton is no longer on the board.
Mazzochi asked the Illinois Community College Board to answer this question: "Does the vice chairman of a community college board of trustees assume the duties of an absent chairman, even if the absence is due to the fact that the chairman of the community college board has resigned his/her office?"
In response, ICCB Executive Director Karen Hunter Anderson referenced a section of the Illinois Public Community College Act that states, "The vice chairman shall serve in the chairman's absence."
She said the ICCB opinion is that the statute does not make a distinction between an absence due to the chairman's inability to attend meetings and an absence due to resignation. The ICCB believes "the intent of the statute is to provide for continuity of the board without a chairman."
Mazzochi said the ICCB's response means she is entitled to assume the duties of chairwoman until the board's next reorganizational meeting, scheduled for April. She said she hopes the members who were absent Thursday will "find the ICCB's opinion compelling."
But McGuire said the ICCB letter includes a disclaimer that reads: "This does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion."
"That's not the definitive answer," McGuire said.
Allowing William Hay & Co. to continue the presidential search process is another item on the agenda -- even though the search already is underway and initial conversations have begun with some candidates.
Paul LeFort, secretary of the search committee looking to replace the fired Robert Breuder, told board members Thursday it's important to get on the same page because it will be hard to recruit good candidates unless trustees are "of one mindset."
"I know how diligent and committed the (search committee) members have been to this legitimate process," he said.
McGuire opposed the hiring of William Hay & Co. in November and wants a fresh start to find a new search firm. LeFort said when the committee was creating a candidate profile in November, all board members provided input except McGuire, who sent only a list of "desirable characteristics," and Birt, who said work commitments prevented her from participating.
Mazzochi said Thursday she is encouraging McGuire, Birt or Wozniak to fill Hamilton's empty position on the search committee.
"I'm disappointed the other three trustees aren't here tonight because that's something I was planning on asking them," she said.
Since the search committee's last meeting Dec. 21, LaFort said the position has been posted on education websites and sent to community college board offices in all 50 states. An ad will be placed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and 80 letters have been sent by Hay & Co. to key contacts in higher education.
While the position is still being publicized, 169 resumes had been received as of Thursday, LeFort said. Of those, it appears 30 to 34 candidates are "highly qualified," including three current and four former college presidents.
"We're actually moving quite fast down the road and we expect them to have face to face interviews over the next week or two or three," he said.
"Obviously, the last step in the process is the board has to hire the particular candidate," LaFort said. "I think there's probably a month or two before we get down to the last few candidates, so I guess the search committee would give the board a challenge: You've got 60 days to get a truce."
COD's law firms
The special meeting agenda calls for the board to revisit the employment of three law firms that billed the college for more than $2.4 million between May and December.
But it appears unlikely there will be enough votes to part ways with the firms of Rathje & Woodward, Schiff Hardin and Schuyler, Roche & Crisham.
Mazzochi said she wants the board to consider hiring in-house counsel who would be supervised by COD's president and report to the board.
She said such counsel would be able to provide "on-the-spot legal advice" to senior management and help save money on legal fees.
Empty trustee seat
Something missing from the agenda prepared by McGuire, Birt and Wozniak is a discussion about how the board will pick a seventh trustee to replace Hamilton.
The board has until next month to appoint a trustee who would serve until the April 2017 election.
As of Friday, 19 people had applied with more expected before Sunday's deadline. Still, there are no plans to talk about the selection process during the special meeting.
Mazzochi, Bernstein and Napolitano started that discussion Thursday, but they said they want input from McGuire, Birt and Wozniak.
If the six trustees can't agree on someone by the February deadline, the chairman of the Illinois Community College Board -- Lazaro Lopez -- will pick the new trustee.