DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin has only 10 days to make an important decision.
Illinois’ second biggest reform effort – cleaning up College of DuPage – has quietly taken an unexpected turn. Suddenly, DuPage county state’s attorney Bob Berlin has the chance to show taxpayers exactly where he stands on corruption and profligate spending. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for the obscure prosecutor.
The College of DuPage saga started in June 2014, when its then-president was caught scheming to grab $20 million from Illinois taxpayers.
Public outcry, the charismatic leadership of Kathy Hamilton and a drumbeat of scandals revealed on websites like forthegoodofillinois.org and the Edgar County Watchdogs, and in Chicago’s papers culminated in an improbable sweep by reformer Hamilton’s Clean Slate ticket in the April election. Hamilton went from censured outcast to board chair in less than a year, and taxpayers had four guardians on the COD board.
She has since held nine meetings in 100 days. Hamilton and the Clean Slate, comprised of Charles Bernstein, Frank Napolitano and Deanne Mazzochi, have authored an extraordinary reform agenda that will be the subject of an upcoming post. The top story now is what Bob Berlin will – or won’t – do.
Here is why. Out of the blue, on July 24, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office found that in 2011, the College of DuPage board of trustees had violated the Open Meetings Act when it voted on the COD president’s employment contract.
Issued on a Friday, the letter took all COD-watchers by surprise. The frustrated citizen who filed the complaint years ago was stunned. But that was nothing compared to Bob Berlin’s reaction.
As DuPage County State’s Attorney, Berlin is the only person in the state who can take the Attorney General’s finding to court and use it to invalidate the contract. But he only has 60 days in which to do so. His last day is September 22.
Invalidating the contract will give Berlin, who is up for re-election in 2016, some of the reformer’s glow as he returns to the voters.
By doing so, Berlin will save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars – and single-handedly claw back the notorious $762,000 Golden Handshake that Breuder’s enabling board showered upon him to make him go away.
Hamilton and the Clean Slate have already told Breuder they intend to fire him. They are doing so for cause, and if successful they will invalidate Breuder’s contract and the $762,000. But if Berlin wins his action, then they can skip the firing proceedings and get on with improving COD.
Will Berlin act? Legal experts cite case after case in which Illinois appellate courts have upheld invalidating actions by public bodies in the midst of an Open Meetings Act violation. But the cautious prosecutor has been disturbingly quiet.
COD’s scandals have been an extraordinary government, policy and political storm. The reform movement has already served as a beacon for Illinoisans and activists around the nation. Until now, it has been entirely Kathy Hamilton and the Clean Slate. Bob Berlin has a chance to stand up for taxpayers by filing his action to invalidate Breuder’s deal – or to look the other way. It is a moment that will tell the rest of us exactly who Bob is, and what and who matter to him most.