Breen seeks open-meetings law reform in wake of COD Breuder flap
DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin will not ask a court to void the $485,000 per year contract of College of DuPage President Robert Breuder, even though Illinois State Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the school’s previous board of trustees violated the law when it extended Breuder’s employment deal in 2011, a decision issued late last week said.
The decision comes approximately seven weeks after Madigan, who received the complaint in 2011, found the college’s board violated the Open Meetings Act when it failed to properly inform the public that it was voting on a contract extension for Breuder.
Illinois State Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) disagrees with Berlin’s decision.
“I believe the open-meetings act was violated,” Breen said. “The (College of DuPage) board should have told the public what they were doing; there should have been an agenda item that announced there would be a discussion of an employee contract extension.”
Breen had introduced legislation that would have clarified the law regarding the Open Meetings Act, although it never gained traction. “I’m planning to resurrect that legislation that would allow decisions made in violation of the Open Meetings Act to be nullified by the court, if appropriate.”
Breen said Berlin’s decision, and Madigan’s lack of action for four years, reinforces the need for such legislation.
“I want to make sure nothing like this happens again,” Breen said. “We need to fix this going forward, even if we cannot fix this particular violation.”
Breuder has been on paid leave since April due to alleged financial mismanagement and is facing termination proceedings.
Though Berlin agreed with Madigan's finding, he said in a written opinion that the open-meetings law allows only board actions to be nullified when a decision is made in closed session of a board meeting. The previous board passed the contract extension in open session, but listed the measure as “personnel action” on the agenda. It did not mention the details of the deal during the meeting.
The current board majority that made Breuder’s contract the focus of one of the hottest contested elections in the state earlier this year had asked Berlin to review the case and void the contract.
Berlin said in a written opinion to College of DuPage board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton that “the fact that the attorney general concluded that a violation of the Open Meetings Act occurred does not mean that the (extension) is void. Actions taken in the violation of the act are merely voidable -- that is, capable of being voidable, and then only in the most extreme cases.”
Berlin’s statement went on to say his office could find no instance in Illinois in which a board action was nullified because officials failed to publicly recite details of the item. The typical remedy, he said, is an admonishment to not repeat the practice.
College of DuPage Chairwoman Katharine Hamilton said in a written statement posted to her Facebook page that she was disappointed by Berlin’s decision.
“It is disappointing that State's Attorney Berlin is refusing to prosecute the violation of the open-meetings law found by the Illinois Attorney General’s office. His opinion, however, is limited and does not foreclose other avenues that are being pursued and remain available to relieve the College of DuPage of the restrictions that these contracts placed on the college and its current and future boards," her statement read.
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