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Government

Public, legislators flock to College of DuPage meeting, irate over president's $760,000 buyout (with video)

GLEN ELLYN – An estimated 400 members of the public attended Wednesday's special College of DuPage Board of Trustees meeting to air their grievances about the school's president's severance payment.

The board voted – for the second time – to approve the $762,000 in severance for college President Robert Breuder's retirement. Trustees voted 6-1 in favor of the buyout, with Vice Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton as the lone dissenter.

Wednesday's meeting was the board's second in less than a week to discuss the retirement package, and was called to clarify a procedural motion regarding whether the board should have formally closed debate before voting on the severance during the first meeting Jan. 22.

In the end, the vote remained the same, with trustees approving an addendum to Breuder's contract allowing him to retire March 31, 2016 – three years earlier than anticipated.

In addition, Breuder will receive a $762,867.77 lump sum payment, according to the board-approved contract provisions. The college will also name its new Homeland Security Education Center after him.

Trustees indicated their hands were tied on the buyout because of how previous boards had structured Breuder's contract. 

"In an ideal world, we wouldn't have severance packages. But we do have a contract that, if we end the contract, we owe him the balance of the contract," said Trustee Kim Savage.

Chairwoman Erin Birt said the board quantified 1.5 years of Breuder's salary and benefits when coming to an agreement on the amount of money for the severance pay.

"I think every single person around this table worked very hard at this," Birt said.

That didn't stop the public from attending the meeting in droves to voice their disapproval. In all, about 400 people came, with 75 speaking during a public comment session that ran more than three hours.

Adam Andrzejewski – founder of Elmhurst-based watchdog group For The Good of Illinois, which has been working to make details of Breuder's contract public – said the board violated state law by not providing contract specifics to taxpayers prior to voting Jan. 22.

"This board admits that it secretly negotiated Dr. Breuder's severance agreement for nine months, then didn't recite the details into the record before last Thursday's public vote," he said. "That violated the Open Meetings Act."

Andrzejewski and Edgar County Watchdogs have filed suit against the college for the alleged violation.

DuPage County resident Richard Skoda echoed the statements of many that the public had lost respect for the board's trustees.

"We should not be asking Dr. Breuder to resign. We should be asking them to resign," he said.

Mary Kranz, a former trustee at the college who served from 1995 to 2001, urged the board not to vote for the severance pay because of what it would do to the community.

"The taxpayers of DuPage County cannot afford this tax burden," she said.

West Chicago resident Louise Handel, who is an alumna of the college, said she didn't like that the trustees shifted the blame.

"I'm kind of offended and insulted when I hear board members blame previous boards," she said. "You don't just get to say, 'Pass, that wasn't me.'"

State legislators even took time to address the trustees. Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, told the board politicians in Springfield are already talking about what's going on at the college.

"What you have done as a board contributes to the bad reputation Illinois has with corruption," she said.

Late last week, Ives announced she would ask the state Auditor General to audit the state funding the college has received during the last three fiscal years. She said she wouldn't hesitate pulling $762,000 from the college's state funding as a result of Breuder's buyout.

"I went out on a limb. I defended the College of DuPage in the spring session," Ives said. "Now how can I go back and tell those people we need more money from the state?"

Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, also criticized the board for the amount of the severance payment.

"This is outrageous. There is no precedent for this in a community college setting in Illinois," Breen said. "I hate to say this, but this board has betrayed the trust of this community."

Breuder refused to comment on his retirement and the proceedings surrounding it.

Several members of the public were upset Breuder would be the Homeland Security Education Center's namesake, a decision the board voted in favor of in May 2013.

Area residents urged the board to reconsider, and name it after Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, a Wheaton resident who fought in Afghanistan and died protecting his fellow soldiers. He received the Medal of Honor in 2008.

Kirk Allen, of Edgar County Watchdogs, said Miller would be a much more appropriate choice because he "paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom."

The next scheduled board meeting is Feb. 19.

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