Elgin mayor blasts councilman for spending $6,000 to attend Harvard program

The mayor of Elgin blasted a councilman's decision to attend a program offered by Harvard University that cost the city $6,015.

Councilman Rich Dunne took part in June in the program on senior executives in state and local government by the John F. Kennedy School of Government, which cost $5,700 — plus $315 for airfare — according to information obtained by the Daily Herald.

Dunne said he took vacation from his job.

“Being a former training manager, I believe in it. I believe in career development and executive development,” he said.

Mayor David Kaptain said the city should pay for only employees to attend such programs, not council members. Dunne received approval from City Manager Rick Kozal.

“I was pretty upset with Rick and the whole thing at the time, but the horse had already left the barn, so to speak,” Kaptain said.

Police Chief Jeff Swoboda participated in the program in 2016, and former City Manager Sean Stegall attended when he was assistant city manager in 2008.

“It's a long-term investment (to pay for employees),” Kaptain said. “It's not to help somebody's political career.”

Dunne's tuition came at a 55 percent discount because he'd been placed on a waiting list and was offered a spot three days before the start of the program. The city paid $12,400 tuition for Swoboda, who also was paid his regular city salary.

Dunne put Kozal “in a bad spot,” Kaptain said, by making a last-minute request and saying Stegall had promised him he could go in 2017. Kozal didn't respond to a request for comment.

Dunne said the mayor never told him he had any objections.

The program's topics have included leadership, negotiations, public/private partnerships, cooperative governance, behavioral decision making and microeconomics. Other participants were council members, city managers and state legislators, some from as far as Mexico, Denmark and New Zealand, Dunne said.

One of the presenters was Ron Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard and founder of the Boston Basics, which addresses ethnic and socioeconomic gaps in child development before age 3. Dunne said he wants to bring the Boston Basics to Elgin and has started approaching local leaders including Kaptain and Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders.

Councilman Corey Dixon said there's value in council members attending the Harvard program.

“I think professional development is key, because you never stop learning,” he said. As for any future council members attending, “that's a decision I believe the council should make,” Dixon said.

City spokeswoman Molly Center said the city budget includes $4,000 yearly for tuition and training for the city council. In 2017, that amount was increased to $5,800 to cover the cost of Dunne's program, she said.

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