Chapdelaine’s compensation dwarfs others

At approximately $230,000 a year, Chapdelaine’s total compensation dwarfs not only other community college presidents, but that of many other local public leaders.

This compensation includes a base salary of $147,900, plus benefits. Various experts consulted estimated these benefits total $82,100 per year.

Those benefits include an expense account, a car (with option to purchase) and three insurance policies: one retirement fund (SURS), one annuity (TIAA-CREF), a split-dollar life, term life and long-term care, and a “deferred compensation plan” (457(f)).

In June, 2002, the RVC board verbally agreed to Chapdelaine’s contract addendum, which consists of the $500,000 split-dollar life insurance policy with a deferred $200,000 cash payout at age 65 (Chapdelaine is 57).

Chapdelaine was also compensated by the board last May for an entire year’s “accumulated” vacation days—worth an estimated $13,000—when three of seven board members were absent. The compensation is an exception because no other RVC employees are known to be paid for unused vacation.

In a board meeting, RVC officials verbally agreed to Chapdelaine’s contract last June at $149,350, but failed to put the contract on paper until late February, then at $147,900.

The Rock River Times requested Chapdelaine’s contract and expense account information last October through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. However, the college refused to turn over the contract and other expense documents until March 6, when The Rock River Times had to decide whether to pursue legal action to obtain them.

Chapdelaine’s closest contemporary, Elgin Community College President Michael Shirley, has a base salary of $142,698 with a “retirement program” the board pays $26,520 annually. Shirley is also eligible for a “merit bonus.” However, unlike Chapdelaine, Shirley cannot bill taxpayers for his spouse’s travel, nor can he be paid for more than 10 of his vacation days.

Here is a list of base salaries for other public leaders: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, $150,691; Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli, $134,266; Executive Director of the Greater Rockford Airport Bob O’Brien, $132,000; typical upper-level RVC administrator, $99,012; Rockford Mayor Doug Scott, $87,500; and, Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn, $65,455.

Chapdelaine’s trip west

In May 2002, the board decided to give Chapdelaine money for his vacation days. At the end of June 2002, RVC completed its third consecutive fiscal year of unprecedented deficit operating spending totaling $1,747,809, for the three years.

Weeks after logging the third year of deficit spending, Chapdelaine billed taxpayers $5,780.60 between July 10 and July 20, 2002, for a trip to Washington state and Idaho. Chapdelaine said the trip was for a meeting of college presidents.

Expense accounts show that on July 10, taxpayers paid $1,041 for Chapdelaine and his wife to fly to Spokane, Wash. On July 20, Chapdelaine billed taxpayers $3,679.63 for a stay at Coeur d’Alene resort in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho—about a 45-minute drive from Spokane. The resort is known for its swank and expense. Chapdelaine also charged $297.59 for a rented car in Spokane on July 20, and $696.70 on July 13 to the Garden of the Gods CLU in Colorado Springs, Colo.

According to the meeting’s sponsor, the American Association of Community Colleges, “The Summer Institute is a place to reflect and rejuvenate. New and seasoned community college CEOs share real-life experiences and tips for survival. And topic experts offer strategies to solve tough campus challenges.” This summer’s meeting is at a resort in Breckenridge, Colo.

Chapdelaine’s spending came about six months before the state issued a report that severely reprimanded RVC for filing late and inaccurate financial information. RVC is the first locally operated community college in the state to receive such a report.

Chapdelaine has also put RVC $61 million in debt through bond issuances, with no voter referendums.

Contradiction leads to legal threat

College attorney Chuck Kostantacos of the Rockford law firm of Kostantacos, Reuterfors, McWilliams, Brandt and Green, P.C., wrote in a Feb. 4 letter: “…the frequency of your requests and the scope of information sought has been, at best, burdensome for the Rock Valley staff. Further, it is my understanding that members of your staff have approached the Rock Valley College staff for information which has not been requested with an appropriate Freedom of Information Act written request. Public documents which are subject to disclosure will be disclosed only upon written request.”

On March 7, the day after the much-delayed contract was received, The Rock River Times submitted another FOIA request, in accordance with Kostantacos’ letter, for documents that identified the method of payment, cost to the board and from whom or what entity the board purchased the insurance policies.

RVC denied the request March 18 on grounds that insurance is exempt from public disclosure. The Rock River Times can appeal the college’s denial on grounds that the insurance is actually compensation, which is not exempt.

In contradiction to Kostantacos’ letter, another RVC attorney, Joseph J. Perkoski of the Chicago firm of Robbins, Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton and Taylor, Ltd., wrote March 25: “The absence of a public interest and an intent to disrupt the college is evident in the nature of the numerous FOIA requests…the college requests that Mr. Havens…not contact college administrators or college trustees by phone or in person. …We trust that Mr. Havens will abide by this request such that the college does not have to pursue other legal remedies. …”

Editor’s note: We do not respond to back-door threats because our standards will stand in any court of law and stand every week before our readers. Many RVC faculty, students, alumni and readers in general have commented on the quality of our RVC series and the need for it.

Any allegations that Mr. Havens’ reporting is unbalanced or biased are totally false and unfair. That’s what the editorial process is about, detecting and eliminating imbalance and bias. We do our job. Mr. Havens is a great researcher in the fine tradition of investigative journalism.

As to the number of FOIA requests, this is a complicated story; and if the college was completely forthcoming, additional requests would be unnecessary. However, just as RVC has been late with its reports to the Illinois Community College Board for the last three years, RVC has been late and incomplete with most of the FOIA requests by this paper. That’s not our fault; that’s the scrambled culture of the RVC administration. In fact, the college fails to recognize that this paper has been more than generous in extending the intial deadlines for the FOIA requests.

The ruse of the assertion of excessive information requests by this paper is exactly that—a ruse. The public’s right to know is the public’s right to know, and this paper will not back off the concept of investigative journalism, no matter how long or how many pieces of paper it takes. RVC is a taxpayer-funded public body that must respond under law and must provide good stewardship of public monies.

Frank Schier, editor and publisher

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