Paul Newman makes "the list" but I don't?!
McHenry County College brings me so close, but not close enough, to making a government's Enemies List.
Apparently my co-workers and I are considered "threats" to McHenry County College by its Board of Trustees. But that honor is somewhat diminished by the fact that it looks like voters and taxpayers in general are considered threats to MCC, too.
Imagine my surprise when I visited Cal Skinner's McHenry County Blog this morning and found excerpts from the five-year strategic plan that the MCC Board is expected to approve at tonight's meeting.
This retreat was held in June 2012, about 10 months before the election that put three new reform-minded faces on the board and forced out two longtime trustees. It's interesting what the board included in its list of "threats" to the institution in its military-sounding "Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats Analysis":
• Media, bloggers (That's us at the paper. And Skinner and Company.)
• Taxpayer backlash (That's you, the taxpayer, And us.)
• Discontinuity of Board membership (That's caused by you, the voter. In the board's defense, the April election proved that they hit that nail squarely on the head.)
• Baggage - history (That's the long and not-so-distinguished list of decisions that have created the three aforementioned threats.)
So why are the media, bloggers and assorted riff-raff considered threats? I'll take a few guesses:
• Back in 2007, the MCC Board developed a plan to build a health and wellness center by issuing $32 million or so in alternate revenue bonds that would be paid off by a minor-league baseball team and stadium.
The board maintained that the proposal was economically sound, but denied numerous Freedom of Information Act requests from the newspaper, bloggers, and local good-government activists.
Eight months later, MCC relented and released a heavily-redacted version of the study. It turns out the study concluded the baseball stadium would have bled red ink for the first five years.
• In 2009, former President Walt Packard stepped down. The MCC Board, which floated him out on a golden parachute, told the newspaper and the public that he was stepping down to care for his ailing wife.
But it turns out that the board forced him out.
As for the Packard's separation contract, he was given the title of President Emeritus through June 2010, and allowed to collect his same $188,564 salary plus benefits for a job with no real duties or regular work hours.
• And getting our hands on that contract, paid for by the taxpayers, was a lot of fun in and of itself.
We asked for it under FOIA. The MCC Board wouldn't give it to us, citing the personal privacy exemption. We appealed, which under the old FOIA meant we had to go back to MCC and ask again, pretty please with sugar on top. They denied the appeal.
Fortunately, the Illinois Supreme Court in an unrelated case ruled that public employee contracts are public record. A Wheaton taxpayer – get this – had to spend three years in court to obtain a copy of the contract of the local high school superintendent.
The MCC Board was forced to reverse course and give it to us. What personal information did it contain? Zero.
• Speaking of FOIA, we also requested Packard's performance evaluations, given the baloney the MCC Board attempted to serve us about his departure.
The MCC Board, to borrow a sports term, ran out the clock. They delayed, knowing that the General Assembly was going to exempt evaluations from its new and much-improved FOIA law.
Lawmakers added the exemption and ended our quest to see just what happened behind closed doors.
I could go on and on and on, but suffice it to say that this open government watchdog blog doesn't call MCC the "poster child for secrecy" on a whim.
I won't get into the fact that MCC leadership has never truly addressed the issues raised a year ago in a story by reporter Brett Rowland that questions how they calculated the future enrollment projections being used to justify their most recent expansion efforts.
And I won't bring up that little thing after the April election when the lame-duck MCC Board scheduled the vote to extend the current college president's contract before the new members were seated.
If wanting accountability makes me and the Northwest Herald, or Cal Skinner, or the voters in April who forced change, a threat to the institution, so be it. Guilty as charged, I guess.
But speaking of threats, I think the MCC Board's list is incomplete.
There's state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, who got a bill passed that will make it harder for governments like MCC to issue alternate revenue bonds. MCC's most recent proposal – possibly using them to fund a massive expansion and paying it off with dues from a campus fitness center – is one of the things that inspired him to propose the legislation.
And what about Woodstock attorney Jane Collins? She's not media, and she's not a blogger, but if I had a dollar for every FOIA she's sent to MCC to keep an eye on it, I'd be a very wealthy man.
Maybe the board tonight can vote to amend the strategic plan to add "community busybodies" to the threats list.
Or maybe the board can ditch the threats list entirely and focus on the list that follows it in the strategic plan – the list of values the board learned from the retreat.
There are 17 of them. Six are, in the order listed: trust, honesty, openness, listening, fiscal responsibility, and integrity.
After 13 years of writing for the Northwest Herald, I think I can say with some authority that public officials who truly embrace these principles don't keep lists of threats because they don't need to.
But in the event that the MCC Board crafts a more specific threats list, remember that it's Craver with a C.
And if Collins doesn't at least get the title of honorary pest, I will not accept the title.
Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.