Following word from school officials that a deadline to agree to a state-run audit would not be met and a threat from Illinois lawmakers to slash funding, the College of DuPage has hired the PR firm Res Publica Group.
The audit comes as a result of continuing questions about financial oversight at the College of DuPage, which is supported by property taxes, state appropriations and tuition,, that saw the board approve a nearly $763,000 severance package for school President Robert Breuder. The severance deal is one of the largest for a public employee in state history.
Additionally, a former employee at the school was charged with stealing more than $200,000 from the campus radio station over a seven-year period, with one school official saying that the theft could have been happening for twice as long at twice the final total.
Lawmakers called for the Illinois auditor general to review the school's finances but the college's board of trustees did not agree to pay for the audit's cost, with an attorney for the school saying that school officials would meet with lawmakers to discuss the issue but would not agree to the audit.
In response, the board has retained Res Publica Group, with College of DuPage Board of Trustees Chair Erin Birt saying in a March 11 memo that the company will "assist us in our communication efforts to ensure the public and media have the facts and to prevent the spread of misinformation."
College of DuPage Board Member Kathy Hamilton hit back at the hiring of Res Publica Group in a March 13 email.
"Yesterday, I received a memo from you advising that Franczek Radelet has engaged the Res Publica Group," Hamilton wrote. "Citing your commitment to be 'transparent and forthright,' you say Res Publica Group will assist us in our 'communications efforts' and 'prevent the spread of misinformation.'
"Why the sudden change of course? Instead of welcoming a State Auditor General performance audit, called for by dozens of legislators, you hire a PR firm? How absurd.
"On what authority have you entered into an agreement with Res Publica Group? If their agreement is with Franczek Radelet, then by what authority have they bound this board?
"You are not permitted to spend taxpayer money without the full authority of the board. You cannot have the full authority of the board without a properly noticed board meeting, in the open, and putting the measure to a vote.
"You do not run the school by yourself, even if you blindly follow the outgoing president. The balance of the board has no information about this arrangement. We do not know the costs, duration, scope, work plan, personnel, qualifications, fee structure, deliverables, specific responsibilities, indices, or accountabilities for evaluation. Corruption begets corruption.
"Therefore, under Illinois FOIA, I hereby demand every piece of paper, such as the authority granted Franczek Radelet to hire Res Publica Group, the contract between them, any and all emails call records, and internet records between the two of them about COD, and between either of them and us, or between all three of us. Same request for any other record, note, file, letter, notation, entry, check, signing authority for check, voucher, invoice, etc., either on paper or in electronic form. Under Illinois FOIA, I demand every document Res Publica Group has created on this matter either for or about COD or distribution internally to us and Francek Radelet, or externally to third parties, such as reporters, editors, legislators and other officials. Under Illinois FOIA I demand the name of the COD responsible official for this relationship. Who is directing this work that is supposedly on our behalf?
"Under Illinois FOIA I demand specific information on how we are paying Res Publica Group. I am particularly interested in the invoices from Res Publica Group to Francek Radelet and the invoices from Francek Radelet to us.
"Further, under Illinois FOIA, I request all documents relating to direction, strategy, scope of work and actual work done by Res Publica Group. I want to know exactly what we -- or Franczek Radelet, on our behalf -- have tasked them to do, and when, by whom, and all of the hourly and/or special rates (value billing, if applicable), COD taxpayers will pay for the privilege of having a public relations firm obscure your failures.
"Flagrantly spending other people’s money got the board into this mess – and this action proves the board majority has learned nothing.
"Erin, your actions speak more eloquently than I ever could to the need for new leadership at the College of DuPage.