Next College of DuPage board trustee: Peacemaker or reformer?
Before abruptly resigning two months ago, former College of DuPage board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton led the charge to fire the college president and enact other changes at a school that had been rocked by revelations of excessive spending, questionable administrative practices and subpoenas from state and federal authorities.
Some say her replacement should be a fence-mender, someone with an open mind; others argue whoever fills the seventh seat at the state's largest community college should continue what Hamilton started, a mandate for change from voters in the most recent election.
"This is a case where all of the marbles are going either to reformers or to the other side," said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of For the Good of Illinois, a watchdog group that's been critical of COD's spending practices. "The pick needs to be a person dedicated to reform with a verifiable track record."
But DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said it would be "a mistake" for the new board member to be aligned with either of the two factions.
"This person should be somebody willing to come in and call balls and strikes," he said, adding that the appointee needs to be someone who has the ability to get along with others and is willing to compromise.
Hamilton's successor, though, won't be chosen by the deadlocked panel she left behind.
Instead, the task falls to Lazaro Lopez, chairman of the Illinois Community College Board, as COD trustees failed to even meet to review applications for the position.
Lopez "intends to make the decision in the most expeditious manner as possible, and that will be his focus," said Matt Berry, a spokesman for the state college board.
Trustees had until today to name their own replacement, which would break the 3-3 deadlock on the board that has brought business to a standstill since Hamilton resigned Dec. 13.
Since then, three College of DuPage trustees -- Erin Birt, Dianne McGuire and Joseph Wozniak -- have refused to attend most meetings. Accordingly, the board hasn't addressed numerous issues, including how COD should respond to being put on two years' probation by the Higher Learning Commission. The accreditation agency raised a variety of concerns, including the inability of COD board members to work together.
This week, members of the former COD board majority that Hamilton led -- Vice Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi, Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein -- wanted to hold a special Thursday night meeting to try to pick someone to fill the vacant seventh trustee seat until the next election in April 2017. But the session was canceled Wednesday after Birt, McGuire and Wozniak expressed their desire to have Lopez pick the new trustee.
"Mr. Lopez is well-qualified to appoint an appropriate trustee that will perform the duties to the best of his or her ability, and so I defer to him," Birt said.
Mazzochi said it's "disappointing" the other trustees refused again to meet.
While 27 people have applied for the vacancy, Lopez isn't limited to that pool of candidates. The appointee needs only to be a district resident who is eligible to hold public office.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives notes that Lopez was named to chair the state college board by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
"Governor Rauner is on the side of reform, so he's going to pick a reformer," Ives said. "Let's not even play around with this. He's going to pick a reformer."
Ives also noted the results of the April election, in which the Hamilton-backed "Clean Slate" of Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein took office.
"The voters overwhelmingly picked that entire slate," she said. "So to not have a reformer as that seventh trustee would be an affront to the electorate."
After their election, Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein elevated Hamilton to the position of chairwoman and helped her pursue sweeping changes in the midst of federal and state investigations into the administrative and financial practices at COD. Those included firing controversial President Robert Breuder and two top administrators, bringing in new attorneys and turning the money-losing but upscale Waterleaf restaurant into an educational facility.
However, many of those changes implemented since April came in 4-3 votes, with holdover trustees Birt, McGuire and Wozniak providing the opposition. Amid those changes came word of probation set by the Higher Learning Commission, which singled out the board's inability to work as a unit.
The new trustee, Cronin said, should be "singularly devoted" to responding to concerns raised by the Higher Learning Commission's report and securing the school's accreditation.
"The Higher Learning Commission says that one of its concerns is the dysfunction of the board and the infighting," Cronin said. "So we need somebody that will have some ability to work with both factions."
Bernstein said it would be fine if the new trustee isn't aligned with either side -- someone who has "the guts to stick to what they know is right for the college and not be swayed by any of the various sources of pressure."
Glenn Hansen, president of the College of DuPage Faculty Association, said faculty members want a trustee who will "support the changes that have been made."
Hansen says a good pick for the vacant seat would be former state Rep. Sandra Pihos, who finished in fourth place during the April election behind Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein.
"She was number four in the election, and that was the people's choice," he said. "So I think that the people's choice should carry some weight."