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April 18, 2024

Daily Herald – Another media failure column?

By Kirk Allen & John Kraft

On October 18, 2015

DuPage Co. (ECWd) –
Once again it’s time to dissect the words of a recent column in the Daily Herald that appears to be yet another attempt to cast negativity on the reforms taking place at COD.  In addition, it clearly exposes how this man’s words carry no weight and point to a disconnect in understanding the real problem as well as what a Conflict of Interest is.
For starters, the column published is written by Harper College Trustee William Kelly, who they reference as a guest columnist.  A quick search on the Daily Herald only pulled up the very article I am addressing.  That points to the Daily Herald seeking a view point that once again casts negativity on the changes taking place at COD in my opinion.
Within the article, the author states, “For the past 12 years, I have served on the Harper College Board of Trustees. Last year, I led the Illinois Community College Trustees Association as president.”  According to the ICCTA, he is now a “Member of the ICCTA Executive Committee” (ICCT link)
As a member of the board of trustees at Harper, and Harper being a member of the ICCTA, that means the very college board he is sitting on must vote to spend money on a membership to ICCTA, of which he was the President of at the same time.  That is a conflict!
In his column, he stated, “Legislative overreach in reaction to an isolated incident may garner headlines in the short term, but often leads to unintended consequences, costly mandates and increased administrative bureaucracy over the long term.”

Isolated incident?

As reported by the Chicago Tribune in April of 2001 – “Because of a successful fall referendum last year, the college (Harper -Breuder as President) plans $125 million in construction that will nearly double the size of the campus.”

We reported on Breuders illegal $168 Million bond referendum concerns in numerous articles

Chicago Tribune

“The college also pays for Breuder’s $2,000 per year license to use the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation in Dundee Township, where Breuder recently entertained five area businessmen during a day of hunting.”

“The final bill included 29 pheasants and three Hungarian partridges shot, as well as four bottles of chardonnay and four bottles of shiraz. The money for the wine came from the Harper College Foundation, the college’s fundraising arm; the food and hunting tabs came out of Breuder’s expense account.

“At his last post as president of a small community college in rural Pennsylvania, he stocked a wine collection for that school’s teaching restaurant and boasted it was the best in the state.”

“With private funds he bought a $60,000 painting by artist Severin Roesen for the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport. He spent $11 million of public and private money renovating a theater in downtown Williamsport, where his name is emblazoned in a star.”

“Harper taxpayers and faculty have questioned the amount of money Breuder spends wining and dining community and business leaders. Over four years, he has spent nearly $30,000 for 32 out-of-town trips and $26,000 for 247 meetings over meals at such places as Spago, Rhapsody and the Ritz-Carlton.”

“Part of the controversy swirling around Breuder at Harper involves his compensation package, which includes a $15,000 housing allowance and $2,500 for his spouse’s travel in addition to his salary. (Spouse travel pay is ILLEGAL!) 

“Many of the things he did, the end result was certainly magnificent, but the community questioned whether it was driven by a desire to make the college a better place or to simply make him look good.”

Isolated incident?

May I suggest the Daily Herald vet their columnist a little better, as it is clear the person writing it had no problem with illegal spending by Robert Breuder, and was a Board Member when it took place at Harper.

Some will argue that the above referenced matters point to an isolated problem with Breduer.  If we can agree on that then we need legislation banning Breuder from all public jobs!
However, I don’t believe isolation is as simple as that.  These actions point to taxpayers in three separate districts being abused because the board failed to hold their president accountable to the law. Regardless of who is committing the malfeasance, that very malfeasance spanned from Pennsylvania to Illinois and the taxpayer abuse was not isolated.

That is why legislation is necessary. 

When boards fail or refuse to protect the taxpayer the ultimate backstop is our legislature, which the people elect!  More on that below!

Let’s look at college President contracts and see if that is isolated?

As reported by the Herald:

  • Harper College President Ken Ender last year was given a five-year pact (Allowed by the author of the very column being addressed!)
  • Lake County spokeswoman Evelyn Schiele, adding that school President Jerry Weber received a three-year renewal of his contract in August.
  • Other community college presidents have longer deals.

We know that Lewis & Clark Community College President has a contract exceeding legal limits and as the whole state knows, COD President Breuder’s contract was illegal.
So with the Herald’s pointing to multiple colleges, our pointing to two, one must ask, what research did this contributing columnist do that brought him to the conclusion this is an isolated incident?  Doesn’t the fact his own college President’s contract is in violation of the law prove the claim of isolated incident to be false?
We suspect the truth of the matter is he did no research and simply echoed talking points being bantered in defense of Breuder’s actions.
Another very concerning comment made in Kelly’s column was this:

Illinois community colleges serve an incredibly diverse student body and are uniquely positioned to serve the specific workforce and educational needs of their respective communities. “

What on earth does the student diversity have to do with College Boards that are allowing contracts and spending to take place that violate law?   Student diversity is not the issue and this appears to be nothing more than a “it’s about the kids” defense for illegal actions by College Administrations and Boards. It’s time students stop being used as the excuse to justify more spending on Administration and illegal acts.

“It makes eminent sense that governance of each of these institutions should be vested in trustees elected by local taxpayers.”

Interesting comment, and misleading.  At no time has ANYONE suggested the governance of these institutions not be done by trustees elected by local taxpayers.

“Community college trustees bring their financial acumen, life experiences, and analytical skills to the board table. They are connected to the communities and directly accountable to their electorate. Nobody is better situated to inquire, to vet, to examine, to challenge.”

If financial acumen, life experience, analytical skills, connection to the communities, and accountability to their electorate points to nobody better situated to inquire, to vet, and to examine, how is it we have so many college President contracts that violate the law?

The answer is simple. It is because all those qualities mean nothing if they are not applied, which is clearly the case we are seeing with school boards across the state.

“The ICCTA provides trustees professional development to hone these governing skills, act strategically, and benchmark student success.”

Now this is really a special comment.  I wonder if he could explain how this professional development to hone governing skills worked out for COD and all the other colleges that have contracts inconsistent with law?  All the training in the world will fail if its not applied nor understood.

Case and point with a quote from this Herald article.

“Officials at those schools, however, say they weren’t aware of any state law that would limit the length of a president’s contract to a board’s term.”

Clearly they were not trained on how to understand our laws.  The fact there was no law limiting the length of a presidents contract provides them the answer to their own concern.  When the law is silent, YOU CAN’T DO IT!  It is known as Dillon’s Rule and Illinois is a Dillon’s Rule state.

You only have the power granted by statute so if the law is silent you can’t do it.  Any competent attorney should know that and the ICCTA should be teaching that but by all indications they are clueless.

I would say 100% of the illegal actions we see public officials making could be avoided with one simple question.

Where in the statute does it allow us to take this action?

Without statutory direction you can’t do it, no matter how good it makes you feel or how compelling it is to the community.  Our laws have meaning but when the very people training our school leaders don’t educate them on this fact we end up with what we have right now at COD and other community colleges.

“Let’s keep community college governance firmly in the hands of local property taxpayers and their locally elected boards who are directly accountable to their needs.”

It makes eminent sense that governance of each of these institutions should be vested in trustees elected by local taxpayers just as it makes eminent sense that systemic failures state wide point to governance in key areas being vested in legislatures elected by local taxpayers!

The primary reason for the legislation is because it was left directly to the elected board’s and they failed the people.  Although they can and have been held accountable at the election, it did nothing to protect the tax payer dollars that have been squandered by their inability to govern.

We are working on a state wide project and I assure you the data so far points to problems state wide when it comes to illegal and out of control spending by Community Colleges. This is not an isolated problem and those claiming it is either have an agenda or are simply ignorant to the facts.

I would have to chalk up this Daily Herald column as yet another failure in bringing the full story to the readers in the community.

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  • Dave
    Posted at 11:30h, 18 October

    Why are there so many who don’t seem to know right from wrong….

    • jmkraft
      Posted at 11:44h, 18 October

      They prefer it that way.

  • George Barraclough
    Posted at 11:53h, 18 October

    Typical liberal and public relations trick, set up a straw man (incredibly
    diverse student body, governance by trustees elected by local taxpayers) that has nothing to do with the present issue, distract the reader and then knock the straw man down.
    Also, what about the obscene yearly clothing allowance for Breuder’s wife at Harper College? Did he also have that in his contract (or outside his contract) at COD?

    • Bob Hazard
      Posted at 18:35h, 18 October

      Liberal has nothing to do with the present issue either. The shenanigans that happened at COD for instance happened under the watchful eyes republicans. Former trustee David Carlin for instance, was the District Director for Joe Walsh while Walsh was in congress. former trustee Cory Atkinson was/is (?) affiliated with Taproot. Erin Birt was endorsed by the DuPage Co.Republican party. They are all conservative, not just Republican, but conservative. It’s the corruption, not the political affiliation. Trustees Hamilton, Mazzochi, Bernstein and Napolitano are, as far as I can tell, conservative, but that doesn’t matter They are honest.

      • Kirk Allen
        Posted at 22:09h, 18 October

        Bob, the reference to liberal was in the tactic used by the author of the article. I dont see anywhere in his comment that he was claiming what happen at COD was because of anyone being liberal. I agree with you on the facts relating to Carlin, Atkinson, and Birt. What it does is show that we must elect principled people regardless of party.