By Adam Andrzejewski
Last week, voters went to the polls to start a new beginning at College of DuPage. In the nonpartisan election, three "Clean Slate" reformers were elected as new trustees. This new majority is not beholden to the establishment of either Republican or Democratic parties. Their unique political alliances span the continuum from teachers union to Tea Party. That's good for government units throughout Illinois.
Inspired by the courage and leadership of Vice Chairman Kathy Hamilton, last May, our organization and the noted Edgar County Watchdogs kicked off a robust COD oversight investigation. Working hand-in-hand with Hamilton, we helped stop payment on a questionable $20 million state construction grant and exposed $100 million in hidden spending transactions. This created the environment for a freeze in property taxes and student tuition.
We also discovered college payments for private shooting club dues, global satellite phone expenses and house charge accounts. Even more troubling, we discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts, parties, eating and drinking expenses for President Robert Breuder, the senior management team, and trustees.
Over the past six years, COD spent an amazing $600 million on construction. Board members of the college foundation collected $192 million in college payments -- with the vast majority of that spending circumventing a competitive procurement process.
In addition to other questionable transactions, $240,000 was spent on wine and accessories tagged as "instructional supplies." Since 2009, COD trustees conferred more than $4 million of total compensation on President Breuder through 2016.
Working with courageous insiders, we passed additional fact patterns to journalists who exposed missing property tax payments, internal "cooking-the-books" on enrollment, alleged fraud at the radio station and other breaking stories that point to larger, more systemic problems.
In short, we helped uncover business-as-usual as practiced across Illinois' local governments.
So what is the future of the College of DuPage? What steps will rebuild the public trust? Here are a few suggested solutions.
1. Open the books on all spending, from the general appropriation down to the subcontractor level. All COD stakeholders deserve to see "every dime, online, in real time." For example, the seemingly common practice of COD vendors having company representatives on the school's foundation board became public knowledge only when Hamilton questioned it and we and other news media reported on the questionable relationships.
2. Implement aggressive, adversarial, forensic auditing to claw back fraud and grossly misallocated public resources. The audit should not only focus on financial transactions, but also on college processes. For example, the enrollment numbers since 2009 need to be empirically certified.
3. Establish a 45-day forgiveness period for current or former COD administrators or employees who acknowledge or report questionable activities. COD employees can finally come forward without fear of retaliation. After the deadline, if there are offenses and the state's attorney won't prosecute, then COD should consider independent actions available under the law.
4. Implement "reverse auction" contracts. Pre-qualify bidders and hold online, transparent auctions to bid down the cost of procuring goods and services. Adoption of this common sense private-sector solution has been far too slow in Illinois government.
The new board majority has a monumental task ahead of it. New managers, new accounting procedures and aggressive auditing are necessary. Numerous contractors need to be let go. A clear break with the past is necessary.
Not since then-U.S. Attorney James R. Thompson's investigation and bipartisan prosecution of Cook County corruption in the early 1970s has this much ink been spilled on a local unit of government.
COD is very important with one million constituents -- one of the largest units of Illinois government. Its role as a piggy bank for DuPage insiders must therefore end.
To the extent that COD is just a microcosm example of what's happening across Illinois, it's incumbent upon all of us to support the new trustees. Use Hamilton's clean slate to write a new chapter for COD and our state.
Adam Andrzejewski is the founder of For The Good Of Illinois and the transparency website, OpenTheBooks.com
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