DuPage Co. (ECWd) -
During the last College of DuPage trustee meeting it became evident what once was a 6:1 split on most everything is now a clear 4:3 division with critical questions being lobbed at the new board majority.
Critical questions are important and will help bring more transparency to the public. We welcome those discussions, provided they are truly in an effort to make things better and not just a means of creating unfounded controversy. Fail to be transparent and the voters will throw you out, just as they did with two of the former trustees. I suspect had Birt and McGuire been on the ballot they too would have been cast aside by the voters for doing the same things they are now accusing Hamilton of doing.
Most of the comments from former Chairman Birt and Trustee McGuire appeared to be more along the lines of retaliation than good governance. For example, Birt sniped at Hamilton over comments about getting answers to people's questions. Birt pointed out that this practice has been part of Board Policy for years, however, I had to call her out on the fact she has refused to ever provide an answer to a single question we have raised over the last year. Birt's comment provided nothing towards good governance.
McGuire asked if the hiring of the law firm and audit firm had a cap on the cost. I think it was a great question!
Questions with sincere concern need to be asked and answered.
The Tribune is reporting that there is in fact a cap in place on that matter. Sadly, the question of a cap being placed on the PR firm hired by the old board was a question that to this day McGuire and others have refused to address. The perception on this matter was one of hypocrisy because of past actions. I believe the public has every right to ask the question and get an answer, regardless of who the board is. This is a PUBLIC BODY, not a dictator ship ran by anyone person. (Click here for Chicago Tribune article)
In the past, McGuire and Birt refused to answer, and now they demand answers to some of the same questions. Let the voters interpret that for what it is!
One concern raised by Erin Birt during the meeting was the hiring of a law firm who had previously represented Kathy Hamilton. That can be problematic depending on what the representation was, and whether or not any release or waivers were signed. Let us not forget that COD has amazingly been unable to find the requested waivers for previous attorneys representing them. We believe very close connections were there that may point to the very issue Birt is insinuating to which is contracts for friends.
Our organization signed such documents related to the other law firm hired, and even went as far as releasing the firm to share all records we provided to them. Our goal is transparency across the board and our lawsuit was dropped with the hope this new board will in fact comply with FOIA, unlike the past board. If they don't, we will re-file that case with new counsel.
Appearances are everything right now, and I find it interesting that none of the concerns raised addressed the law, but appeared to be more about appearance and an effort to simply cast negativity on Hamilton - an action Birt seems to know quite well. I know Birt is aware that such a contract with a law firm does not require a bid, but more importantly, the fact that the board is going to issue an RFP for such services when not required after this 4 month stop-gap raised no comment from Birt.
The action of an RFP only a few months away does appear to point to sincerity on the part of the new board to go above and beyond the requirements of the law. The hiring prior to the RFP points to, as Trustee Bernstein pointed out, a desperate need to stop the bleeding going on with some of the businesses at COD.
Although the effort was to imply Hamilton hired the firm, I believe the "board" voted to hire the firm, not a single trustee as is being insinuated.
Another concern Birt raised, ironically, was the insinuation that the agenda some how violated the Open Meetings Act because she was not a party to its creation. My suggestion to Birt, same as before, read the law. There is nothing in the OMA statute that references the creation of the agenda. It only points to the fact it must be posted 48hrs prior to the meeting, which it was. A question to Birt pertaining to who scheduled the illegal lame duck session with an agenda that none of the new board members were a party too resulted in a claim she had nothing to do with it. We are working on finding out who created that agenda, and under who's direction the illegal meeting was posted.
What I found quite interesting was the three trustees who insisted the agenda was improper and that it violated OMA chose to participate in the meeting. Birt referenced at least 4 times and maybe more that the agenda was not legal and she was not going to participate in that agenda. She may have passed the bar, but when you vote NO on every agenda item, you are in fact participating in the meeting.
If you are a board member and you believe the meeting is a violation of the Open Meetings Act, get clarification from your attorney, and if you can't get that, get up and leave! Five hours of bickering appeared to be retaliatory grandstanding, not good governance.
I understand and agree perceptions are crucial to the voters having faith and trust in their government, however, let's not forget what we did witness at that meeting. I believe it was the first time, for me at least, that a true discussion with answers from the one being hired have been presented. With a laundry list of pay to play contracts with foundation members in the past, not once have I seen those people ever have to answer a question from a board member in a public meeting. At least the lawyer being hired was present and addressed the board's concerns. I think that is a good start compared to how things have been done in the past.
I believe a better job of full disclosure prior to the call for a motion would have eased people's concerns, as they are justified. Appearances aside, it does not appear any law was violated and we must not overlook the primary goal was to investigate the alleged wrongdoing in the operations of COD. Although criminal investigations by multiple agencies are under way, let's not forget one need not be charged with a crime to be terminated. Violations of board policies have consequences that may not be addressed through the other investigations.
Is the resistance from the minority board members out of concern such investigation may point to their past actions, thus the push back on having such an investigation?
After a year of ongoing sniping and crude remarks directed at Hamilton by former Chairman Birt and questions by McGuire with nothing more than an intent to embarrass, I think the meeting went as well as can be expected under the circumstances.
Having ran many public meetings over the years and attended hundreds, I would suggest Chairman Hamilton take a crash course on Robert's Rules of Order and understand the importance of staying on point with the peoples business and setting aside the bickering that dominated this meeting. Considering this is her first time as Chairman of a board and the past treatment of her by the previous board, I will give her a "B-" for this first round at the table.
One word of caution to Chairman Hamilton and their new board attorney, do not get caught in the trap of trampling public speakers 1st amendment rights. There is substantial case law supporting the peoples right to address their government and threatening to remove someone because they are yelling or because you don't like what they are saying will only get COD into more hot water with more legal bills. Those rights go beyond what is referenced in the Open Meetings Act.
I suspect as the sting over the election subsides, with three of the board members the public will in fact see a much more open and transparent operation at COD.
One thing I noticed is the fact the illegal censure that Birt and Breuder had placed on the COD Board web page is no longer there. I applaud who ever it was that took that down as it was posted for months in what many consider a form of intimidation. Sadly, Birt had refused to have it removed, all while removing the board meeting videos every month. Birts' transparency is selective!
My closing comment to the board is for ALL of them to follow the law and don't think for a second we won't call them out when they violate the law! We do not endorse candidates and will hold them all to the same level of scrutiny.
Let's see what the next meeting brings!