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Chapdelaines response called ludicrous by N.J. state official
Rock Valley College (RVC) President Roland Chapdelaine issued a response to this papers first article in the series examining RVC leadership. In his Jan. 29 response on RVCs e-mail system and computer discussion board, EdNet, Chapdelaine explained his use of taxpayer money for two known $50 donations to State Rep. Dave Winters (R-69).
Chapdelaines response read, In New Jersey, where I come from, it is permissible to make such donations. Chapdelaine was president of Cumberland County (community) College in Vineland, N.J., from 1989 to 1997.
After explaining Chapdelaines ties with New Jersey and reading Chapdelaines exact words to John Hagerty, communications director for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, Hagerty said, Any individual who works for or represents a publicly funded entity that receives public dollars, the individual cannot, and is prohibited by law from contributing to a partisan political candidate, with state funds.
Hagerty added that he took offense to Chapdelaine maligning the state of New Jersey and called Chapdelaines statement ludicrous that such a practice would be allowed in his state. Before making the statement, Hagerty consulted with one of the divisions attorneys.
Chapdelaines posted message regarding the contributions read: Regarding political donations using taxpayer funds and why it took so long to reimburse the college for such. The donations to Rep. Dave Winters campaign were an honest mistake. In New Jersey, where I come from, it is permissible to make such donations. In the case of the first donation to Rep. Winters campaign, it wasnt until after a routine review of the checks with our attorney that I discovered it was not appropriate.
Sources dispute Chapdelaines claim that the review of the checks was routine. The sources said the review was prompted by this papers Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Chapdelaines contract and expense accounts on Oct. 14, 2002, an assertion that appears to be supported by receipt documents submitted to the Times by RVC.
Unaccounted for in that original request are at least 42 checks, 39 credit card statements and Chapdelaines current contract that was agreed upon last June by the RVC board of trustees.
Chapdelaines response continued: I immediately wrote a personal check reimbursing the college for the donation. On the second occasion, there was a deadline involved, and I did not have my personal checkbook with me, so I used a college checkbook. I reimbursed the college when the statement arrived, which is usually four to six weeks afterward.
This series first article also indicated that state board of elections records show that on Sept. 9, 2002, Chapdelaine made a $300 contribution to Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohns (R) campaign. It is not known whether taxpayer funds were used for this contribution because no checks beyond May 2002 were submitted to the Times as asked for in the FOIA. However, Chapdelaines response does not address this question.
Last week, RVC officials implemented new guidelines to handle media inquiries.
The guidelines request that all media make appointments to see staff and concludes, Telephone, mail, facsimile and e-mail communications with our department will receive a response commensurate with staff time and availability.
In addition, Suzanne Berger, RVCs vice president of institutional advancement and executive vice president of the RVC Foundation, said Jan. 30 that the college wanted all questions in writing and added, We will take the questions under consideration and decide whether or not we will respond to them.
On Feb, 4, RVCs attorney Charles P. Kostantacos office hand delivered a letter to this paper making the same claims of our requests being burdensome to RVC staff, and added, Until further notice, Rock Valley College requests that you and your staff submit any and all requests, including FOIA, directly to my office. We will make every effort to provide responses in accordance with applicable case law and statutes. This approach is intended to enable the College to submit an appropriate response without compromising the ability of our staff to fulfill other duties.
The Rock River Times Editor and Publisher Frank Schier said, We are being stonewalled by the administration of RVC. The tactics are obvious. They will not grant interviews; instead, all questions must be submitted in writing, then they do not respond, unless its through an attorney. What do they have to hide? RVC and its attorney only partially responded to our Freedom of Information Act request, violating the statutes time requirements. That FOIA request dates back to October of last year, pertaining to Dr. Chapdelaines salary and benefits. It has have not been fully answered in four months. Dr. Chapdelaine is not acting as an accessible, open public official. The publics right to know is being violated by the representatives of a taxpayer-supported, public body.
The Times sent RVC a list of questions on Jan. 24, one of which reads, Please explain why Stenstrom was awarded the construction manager position for the Support Services [SSB] construction. The Times has not received an answer to that question and six of the seven others, as of publication. Another question that was submitted Jan. 24 concerned last weeks article. The unanswered question asked, Please explain the increase in number of upper-level administrators from 1997 to present.
The colleges response to the Jan. 24 message was Chapdelaine was out of town and that he would give the Times a response later that week. The response was posted on the colleges e-mail system and computer discussion board.
Sources said that when the administration posted the response Jan. 29 at 1:33 p.m., the file was so large (5.6 megabytes) that it took as long as 15 minutes to open. Once opened, the message was impossible to read because the text was too small, sources said.
Chapdelaines message addressed issues regarding the first in this series that examined his expense account.
Earlier on Jan. 29, the Times received a message from the college that indicated that the RVC board of trustees would not respond to allegations printed in the Rock River Times … because of a pending grievance.
About two hours later, the Times posted the following on its Web site, faxed the message to RVC and hand-delivered it in response to the board: As of this date Jan. 29, 2003, I am formally dropping my grievances. Signed, Jeff Havens.
When RVC board member Ann Dempsey was contacted Jan. 30 and informed of the dropped grievances, Dempsey said she was sorry she couldnt comment and referred all questions to Chris Johnson, RVC Board chairman and Winnebago County Board member (R-4).
On Jan. 31, the Times left Johnson a message asking him to explain the boards spokesperson policy. Johnson faxed a reply that read, The RVC Board spokesperson is policy by consensus.
When the Times contacted Johnson Feb. 3 to ask questions regarding an upcoming article, Johnson answered a few questions before stopping and asked that all other questions be put in writing. Johnson said he wanted the questions in writing for future reference and to avoid having his words taken out of context, which he alleged occurred in the series first article. The Rock River Times stands by the context of those quotes.
Chapdelaines supporters said that new media guidelines and the boards spokesperson policy is an efficient way to serve the community and effectively use college resources. Critics said the college is trying to control the flow of information.
Editors Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that Jeff Havens was an employee at Rock Valley College (RVC) from 2000 to 2002 before he was fired by the board of trustees after publicly criticizing the president and the board of trustees and calling for their resignations. Havens also was one of the leaders of a union organizing effort for staff at the college.
RVCs administration alleges Havens interfered with students ability to learn and exercised undue influence on a student trustee.
None of the information included in this article, or the series, was obtained while Havens was an employee of the college.