COD officials drink, eat well on taxpayers’ dime

COD officials drink, eat well on taxpayers’ dime

by Jodi S. Cohen and Stacy St. Clair | Chicago Tribune

With a dozen bottles of wine, pate and $70 prix fixe plates, College of DuPage President Robert Breuder hosted a holiday dinner for the school’s board of trustees in December 2013 at the campus’ high-end restaurant, Waterleaf. The tab — $2,331 — was paid by taxpayers.

The next night, Breuder threw another holiday dinner, this time for top administrators; 18 people were there. On the bill were 18 bottles of wine, with six of them listed at $114 or more. The bill to taxpayers: $3,572, or nearly $200 per person.

They weren’t done celebrating.

A month later, Breuder and his administrators toasted their accomplishments at a “recognition” event over $60 bottles of Champagne and $32 plates of crab tartlet. The check totaled $1,574, again paid by taxpayers.

Indeed, hundreds of receipts from the restaurant show that, since it opened in October 2011, Breuder and senior managers at the community college have used it as their executive dining room. Records obtained by the Chicago Tribune show they have spent nearly $190,000 on close to 500 occasions — sometimes hosting community members but often meeting with each other over lunch, dinner or after-work drinks.

The publicly funded college has paid the bills, frequently with no explanation for the purpose of the expense and without identifying who was present.

Meanwhile, even though state law says that the restaurant should be self-sustaining, it has lost nearly $2 million since it opened, and is budgeted to lose more than $500,000 this fiscal year, according to financial records obtained by the Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act.

An analysis of those records shows that Breuder’s team has accounted for about 6 percent of Waterleaf’s total revenue. Through expense accounts, $1 in every $16 taken in by the professionally run restaurant is from the college’s own pocket.

The revelations about the restaurant come as the Glen Ellyn-based college — the largest community college in the state — has been under fire from taxpayers and lawmakers over issues of financial oversight as well as a $763,000 retirement package trustees awarded Breuder so he will leave in March 2016, three years before his contract ends.

The 130-seat restaurant was Breuder’s brainchild, and he has defended it as a marketing tool that brings community members to campus and wows them with a first-rate dining experience. Critics, including college employees and students, dismiss it as a vanity project that has done little to advance the educational mission of the college, noting that the culinary students work there only occasionally…(read full)