College of DuPage to turn over closed-session records

  • On Thursday night, the College of DuPage board had seven members for first time since December. One of the board's first actions during the meeting was to comply with a records request from the DuPage County state's attorney's office.

      On Thursday night, the College of DuPage board had seven members for first time since December. One of the board's first actions during the meeting was to comply with a records request from the DuPage County state's attorney's office. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

College of DuPage trustees agreed Thursday to give DuPage County prosecutors records related to a board decision nearly two years ago to renew the contract of former President Robert Breuder.

In a letter sent last month, the state's attorney's office asked the Glen Ellyn-based college to turn over "a copy of the minutes and verbatim record of any and all" closed-door board meetings in February and March 2014. Prosecutors indicated they want to review the records to see whether the board complied with the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

On Thursday night, the board voted 4-3 to comply with the request.

Trustees waited a month to make the decision because three trustees -- Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt and Joseph Wozniak -- boycotted most meetings since the December resignation of former board chairwoman Kathy Hamilton.

David Olsen, the Downers Grove resident appointed to replace Hamilton, cast the tiebreaking vote Thursday night to side with Vice Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi and trustees Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano.

McGuire said she voted "no" because she fears that turning over the records without first getting a court-issued protective order could make the records subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act.

"We should direct our attorney, Mr. (Tim) Elliott, to obtain a protective order that the closed-session recordings will only be released to the state's attorney's office and that the state's attorney's office cannot release the closed-session recordings to anyone else," McGuire said.

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But Elliott said the college doesn't need to get a protective order because records reviewed by the state's attorney are exempt from disclosure under FOIA. "The protective order already exists, and it exists under statute," he said.

The state's attorney's request came nearly three months after Breuder was fired in October.

Breuder critics raised questions about whether the board did an illegal closed-door vote because of a claim in a federal wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Breuder.

According to the lawsuit, Birt, who was then chairwoman of the board, told Breuder on March 7, 2014, that the majority of trustees had extended his contract through 2019.

The board met one day earlier in executive session, but there are no public records or notice of a vote being taken that night.

COD officials said records from January 2014 show that Breuder sent a letter to Birt stating that he wanted to extend his contract an additional year through June 30, 2019. The board had closed-door sessions related to personnel matters in February and March 2014.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

One month after getting the contract extension, Breuder in April 2014 expressed an interest in retiring in March 2016. He and the board then spent nine months discussing the terms and conditions of his planned departure.

In January 2015, the board approved a $762,868 buyout package for Breuder that sparked a firestorm of controversy and helped three new trustees -- Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein -- get elected in the spring.

After conducting an internal investigation, the new board fired Breuder on Oct. 20, which led him to file his lawsuit the next day against Mazzochi, Napolitano, Bernstein and Hamilton. Breuder is seeking more than $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

A spokesman for the state's attorney's office has said there's no a timetable for any investigation because authorities don't yet know what, if any, evidence they will find.

In the meantime, a committee handling the search for a new president is expected to have 12 finalists by the end of the month. The COD presidential search committee then will interview those individuals and eventually recommend three to five finalists for trustees to consider.

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