Will College of DuPage board meet deadline to pick new trustee?

 
 
Posted2/5/2016 5:35 AM
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  • The divided College of DuPage board: top row from left, Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein, Frank Napolitano; bottom row, Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt, Joseph Wozniak

    The divided College of DuPage board: top row from left, Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein, Frank Napolitano; bottom row, Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt, Joseph Wozniak

There was a sense of relief Wednesday when all six College of DuPage trustees met for the first time since November to address several routine items.

The feeling was short-lived. Less than 24 hours later, at least one trustee made it clear she's unwilling to work with the rest of the deeply divided board to select a seventh trustee before next week's deadline to fill the seat that's been vacant since December, when former Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton resigned.

Trustee Dianne McGuire -- who along with trustees Erin Birt and Joseph Wozniak boycotted seven meetings after Hamilton's resignation -- issued a scathing statement Thursday saying the three opposing trustees are at "a critical juncture" without the support of a fourth trustee and "their patronage law firms and unfounded claims of corruption will be subject to majority scrutiny."

She made it clear she and her supporters want to leave the selection of the new trustee in the hands of Lazaro Lopez, chairman of the Illinois Community College Board, rather than try to make it themselves.

"It is up to Dr. Lopez of the ICCB to put an end to the witch hunts, patronage hiring, withholding of information, and raw politics that have been unleashed on the College of DuPage," McGuire said in her statement.

McGuire and Birt already had written to Lopez on Jan. 14 saying they believed he would have to take the rare step of filling the seventh trustee position because the divided board would not be able to agree on a candidate.

Last week, Vice Chairman Deanne Mazzochi said Lopez has told her he would "make a decision as quickly as possible" but encouraged trustees to "work it out ourselves."

Mazzochi and trustees Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano -- all elected last spring as "Clean Slate" candidates -- said Thursday they were hopeful the other three trustees would continue to work with them. Bernstein called Wednesday's meeting "a really good beginning."

"It was a badly needed shot in the arm for the college, to see the trustees doing something," he said. "I can only say positive things about it."

The board approved meeting minutes, financial reports and a lengthy consent agenda that included the creation of three new certificate programs, supply purchases for the school's culinary and hospitality programs, and intergovernmental and joint education agreements, among other items.

If McGuire, Birt and Wozniak don't want to discuss specific applicants for the open seat, Bernstein said he would be happy to talk with them before the Feb. 11 deadline just about the qualities each board member would like to see in the new trustee.

Bernstein said he has not personally reached out to McGuire, Birt or Wozniak to invite them to a session next week because he would like to "wait a day or two" to see if they respond to a request Mazzochi made Wednesday to meet again.

"If the trustees could inform me of any days they have available either next week or any time prior to Feb. 11 for a special board meeting, where the agenda item would solely be selection of the seventh trustee, I would very much appreciate that," Mazzochi said Wednesday.

In the wake of McGuire's statement, that appears unlikely. Wozniak said he hasn't decided if he will attend a special meeting before Feb. 11, but he believes it will be difficult to choose a new trustee when there is no "foundation of trust" among board members. At this point, he said, it probably would be best for Lopez to make the decision.

"They're going to want their people, we're going to want ours," he said. "It's going to be hard to come to any consensus."

Birt could not be reached for comment Thursday but has moved in lockstep with McGuire since losing the board majority.

In addition to selecting a new board member, the trustees still have plenty of other issues to address: paying legal fees for attorneys, who should be the next board chairman, the ongoing search for the school's next president, and determining when they are going to meet again as a full board.

They also have been asked by DuPage State's Attorney Robert Berlin to turn over minutes of a closed session last year in which renewal of former President Robert Breuder's contract was discussed.

It was the board's attempt to secure Breuder's resignation with a $763,000 buyout that prompted the public furor that led to Hamilton's backing of the Mazzochi faction, which was elected in April and promptly fired Breuder.

That group enjoyed a 4-3 majority until Hamilton's resignation in December, which resulted in the 3-3 gridlock that apparently will be broken only by appointment of a new trustee.

The new trustee will serve until the next consolidated election, in April 2017, and likely cast the tiebreaking vote on many of those issues.

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