New College of DuPage trustee named, breaking deadlock
College of DuPage's newest trustee says he was encouraged by "reform-minded individuals" to seek the position and break a 3-3 deadlock on the board that ground business to a halt at the state's largest community college.
David S. Olsen, a Downers Grove village council member since 2013, was named Saturday to replace former board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton who resigned in December.
Olsen was appointed by Lazaro Lopez, chairman of the Illinois Community College Board, just two days after the deadline passed for the bitterly divided COD board to fill the vacancy on its own.
"With a full board now in place, I encourage the board of trustees to meet as soon as possible to prevent any further delays in addressing the work of the board," Lopez wrote in an letter to board Vice Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi.
The appointment is being viewed as a loss for trustees Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt and Joseph Wozniak who wanted Lopez to pick someone without ties to Mazzochi and two other trustees who were allied with Hamilton.
As the seventh member of the board, Olsen is expected to cast the tiebreaking vote on many major issues facing the Glen Ellyn-based school, including whether to continue the search for a new college president to replace the fired Robert Breuder, whether to replace some of the school's law firms, whether to comply with a request from the DuPage County state's attorney's office for executive session minutes related to an extension of Breuder's contract and even who should serve as chairman of the board.
"It was an honor that Dr. Lopez believes that I have the experience and temperament to do the people's work," said Olsen, who will serve until the next election in April 2017.
The 27-year-old Downers Grove resident wasn't among the more than two dozen candidates who applied for the vacancy through the college.
Instead, Olsen said he was approached several weeks ago by "reform-minded individuals in the community" to consider the position.
"They asked if they could forward my name," he said. "After thinking about it, I agreed that they could share my name with Dr. Lopez."
Olsen has the backing of several state legislators who have sided with Hamilton and her supporters on the board.
State Rep. Peter Breen said he was pleased Lopez "acted quickly and decisively to fill the vacancy" on the COD board.
"He could not have chosen a better person than David Olsen," said Breen, a Lombard Republican. "David is a proven advocate for good government, positive reform, and honest, ethical public service."
Mazzochi said Olsen -- who works as an ethics and compliance analyst -- will be "a great addition" to the board.
"He has a proven commitment to public service across diverse forums," Mazzochi said in a statement. "His professional career's focus on ethics and compliance issues will serve us well as we can finally begin to move forward to address the issues raised by the Higher Learning Commission."
Trustees Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein, who both support Mazzochi, also issued statements praising Olsen's appointment.
"I know David to be a very dedicated public servant, one with the highest level of integrity and someone who has and will continue to serve for the right reasons," Napolitano said.
However, McGuire called Olsen's appointment disappointing.
"There was an opportunity to bring someone to the table with objectivity, neutrality, and perhaps even some educational experience to help the college restore its full accreditation and address the ongoing disagreements between the veteran and the new trustees," McGuire said. "But that is not what has occurred."
Olsen's name had come up as a potential Republican primary opponent to state Rep. Ron Sandack, a Downers Grove Republican, months ago. He didn't jump into the race last year, so Sandack has no opponent in the March 15 primary. But before deciding not to run, Olsen received a $1,000 contribution in June 2015 from Mazzochi, according to records from the Illinois State Board of Elections.
McGuire said Olsen's ties to Mazzochi are one of several reasons she believes the appointment "will further divide the board."
Olsen said one of his first tasks will be to reach out to all six trustees and to "listen to what their thoughts are."
Stressing that he hasn't taken a side on any of the issues facing the college, he said, "I'm coming in with an open mind. This is a really important institution, and I've got to weigh what's best for the institution, for the students and for the people of District 502."
He said his role is to serve -- and not be the fourth vote for one of board's two factions. "The key thing for me is that I'm for the trustees working together on an issue-by-issue basis."
But he expressed appreciation for the role Hamilton played in challenging the status quo.
"Clearly, there were issues at the College of DuPage," Olsen said. "I have a lot of respect for former Chairman Hamilton. She was very successful and our community expressed a lot of support for her and the folks that she backed during the last election."
Hamilton -- with the help of Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein -- led a board majority that enacted a variety of changes in the midst of federal and state investigations into the administrative and financial practices at COD. The changes included firing Breuder and two top administrators, bringing in new attorneys and turning the money-losing but upscale Waterleaf restaurant into an educational facility.
Many of those changes came in 4-3 votes, with trustees Birt, McGuire and Wozniak providing the opposition.
Olsen said his approach will be to deal with issues on a "going forward basis."
"We don't need to rehash the past," he said. "We're here because the students matter and this institution is a crucial part of DuPage County and the state of Illinois."
Since Hamilton's unexpected resignation for personal reasons on Dec. 13, Birt, McGuire and Wozniak refused to attend most meetings, in part, because they wanted an organizational meeting to be held to pick a new chairman. They also wanted to restart the search for a new president and fire the law firms hired by the Hamilton-led board majority.
Because of the meeting boycott, 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.
Olsen is expected to continue serving on the village council in Downers Grove, where he was appointed mayor pro tem, helps set agendas and builds consensus among fellow members, Mayor Martin Tully said.
"He's really taken it very seriously," Tully said. "He's constantly in communication with everyone."
Olsen will bring an open mind and balanced perspective to the board, said Glen Ellyn Village President Alex Demos. "I am confident (Olsen) will help facilitate an environment of cooperation through open and fair debate, and move the college forward in a very positive direction."
• Daily Herald staff writer Katlyn Smith contributed to this report
New trustee's bioName: David S. Olsen
Hometown: Downers Grove
Occupation: Ethics and compliance analyst for BP Corp. North America Inc.
Elected office: Downers Grove Village Council commissioner since May 2013, University of Illinois student body president April 2010 to April 2011
Political involvement: Vice chairman of the Downers Grove Township Republican Organization since 2014
Community service: University of Illinois Student Affairs Advisory Council member; Chamber630 (formerly Downers Grove Area Chamber of Commerce & Industry) civic member; Education Foundation of Downers Grove District 58 board member