Jim Dey: Of spending questions and frenemies
Tue, 09/15/2015 - 7:00am | Jim Dey
The shoes keeping dropping at the College of DuPage, the state's largest community college in Glen Ellyn.
Last week, the school fired two top financial officers, the consequence of an audit that revealed questionable spending and misguided investment policies.
Meanwhile, Robert Breuder, the school's president, remains on paid administrative leave pending discharge proceedings.
Those two moves followed the March election in which voters rejected board incumbents protective of the status quo and replaced them with newcomers looking to change the school's administrative culture.
It's a revolution of sorts, one sparked by public outrage over the community college's spending practices.
But Adam Andrzejewski (pronounced "Angie-F-Ski"), a government-spending watchdog who uncovered much of the disturbing news at COD, has a question.
"What if the College of DuPage is not an outlier within higher education?" he asks. "Our mission is either to prove or disprove that question. Right now we're not seeing a heck of a lot of difference."
Andrzejewkski, who heads American Transparency, has dedicated himself over the last few years to open up government spending to public inspection. He oversees OpentheBooks.com, a website where government spending — federal, state and local — is put within fingertip reach.
In May 2014, he started an intensive examination of spending at COD and what he found riled the public. While routinely raising property taxes and tuition, the school was sitting on huge cash reserves. Trustees were slow to respond to Andrzejewski's criticisms. But under public pressure they eventually froze both their property taxes and tuition.
Andrzejewski next put the pay, perks and spending of President Robert Breuder in the headlines. Breuder enjoyed a $495,000 salary package and routinely billed the school for other activities, like membership in a hunting club and lavish meals at the school's money-losing French restaurant.
Eventually, the news media, principally the Chicago Tribune, jumped on the story, and the newspaper had been headlining stories for months now at this once-invisible-but-now-controversial community college.
Meanwhile, Andrzejewski has expanded his mission. Using the state's Freedom of Information Act, he's examining spending at more than 60 public universities and community colleges in Illinois.
"It's a ton (of information) to organize. It's a ton to go through," he said.
Andrzejewski and his team of 15 associates have not had time yet to reach any major conclusions. But they've found spending that raises red flags.
Breuder's pay package drew gasps from the public. But information unveiled by Andrzejewski reveals that another community college president, Dale Chapman of Lewis & Clark near St. Louis, has a $540,000 pay package. Chapman's wife works at the college and pulls down another $200,000.
"Roughly one of the every $15 tuition dollars students pay goes into the Chapman household. That's the definition of a political fiefdom," Andrzejewski said.
Chapman has been president at Lewis & Clark, a school with roughly 20,000 students, since the early 1990s.
Political junkies will enjoy the documentary "Best of Enemies" showing at The Art Theater in downtown Champaign. But if they wish to see it, they'd better hurry because it will be gone soon.
The 87-minute documentary is a trip back in time to the 1968 Democratic and Republican national nominating conventions. But those history-making events — the GOP's nomination of president-to-be Richard Nixon and the riots at the Democrats' gathering in Chicago — are just the backdrop to a series of acidic debates between two intellectuals — conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and liberal Gore Vidal.
Those who remember that combustible combination will enjoy revisiting the series of late night, post-convention debates between Buckley and Vidal that were broadcast as part of ABC News campaign coverage. Those who perceive it as the ancient political history that it is — it was 47 years ago — will be simultaneously entertained by the combative back-and-forth between two men who despised each other and struck by the similarity of yesterday's issues to those of today. Those unfamiliar with the personalities will get a kick out of the elegant animosity.
The 87-minute documentary will be shown at 2:30 p.m. today (Tuesday), 4 p.m. Wednesday and 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Both men are deceased. But they were giant in their days.
Buckley was a prolific author, editor of The National Review, host of "Firing Line" on PBS and the godfather of the modern conservative movement. He was a small-government, religious libertarian.
Vidal was a bomb-throwing apostate, a prolific writer of best-selling historical novels like "Lincoln," movie screen writer and political wannabe. He loved nothing more than to upset the conversational applecart with his pronouncements on sex, politics and culture.
Both were products of the social elite.
Had they stuck to politics, their exchanges might have been both informative and entertaining. But Vidal was determined to destroy Buckley's reputation before a national television audience, launching a series of personal attacks that drew Buckley's strong response.
The result was a series of televised showdowns that revealed an animated Buckley and a smug Vidal. The highlight of their confrontation made shocking television history that stuck with and, to some degree, defined both men for the rest of their long lives.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at [email protected] or at 217-351-5369.
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