By Jodi S. Cohen and Stacy St. Clair
On the eve of a second vote on a controversial buyout package for College of DuPage President Robert Breuder, an Elmhurst-based watchdog group filed a lawsuit alleging that the college's board of trustees violated state open meetings laws last week when it refused to disclose the details of Breuder's $762,000 severance package before voting on it.
Lawsuit against College of DuPage board of trustees
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in DuPage County Circuit Court, comes a day after the school's board announced that it would meet Wednesday to deal with the contract once more, suggesting that there was a problem with how officials handled it initially.
"Breuder's 'voluntary' retirement should not be accompanied by a rubber-stamped $762,868 severance payout," Adam Andrzejewski, founder of the watchdog group For the Good of Illinois, said. "Our lawsuit allows the trustees a time out to think this through. The hardworking students and taxpayers deserve better governance." The Edgar County Watchdogs, a downstate taxpayer advocacy group, joined in the lawsuit.
College of DuPage spokesman Joe Moore declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying he had not seen it.
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The board of trustees will meet in a special session Wednesday night to "clarify a procedural motion" to approve the contract "addendum" with Breuder, according to a brief statement from the state's largest community college.
The board had approved the agreement 6-1 on Thursday without publicly releasing terms until after the vote.
The Tribune had obtained a draft of the severance package before the meeting and published the details, including that Breuder will get a lump sum payout of $762,868 when he retires on March 31, 2016.
Chicago Tribune reports: College of DuPage
The only action item on the agenda for the meeting is to approve the contract addendum. This time, though, the item includes details of the agreement as well as other supporting materials, such as a retirement letter from Breuder.
Under a recent binding opinion from the Illinois attorney general's office, the state's open meetings laws require that such details would need to be made public before a vote. At the board meeting last week, trustees did not publicly read the terms of the contract change before the vote. The board also did not publicly release the terms of Breuder's deal until about an hour after the vote and did not post them on its website.
"The Board's actions were a slap in the face to the principles of open government and transparency that are embodied in the Open Meetings Act," said Andrzejewski, who also founded Open the Books, another watchdog group that has been critical of the community college.
The suit also asks the court to order the college to move Wednesday night's meeting to a larger room on campus in anticipation of a large crowd.
An emergency hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning in DuPage County Court.
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