The Morton College Board of Trustees gaveth — and then they tooketh away.
The day before the new fiscal year was to begin, a four-member quorum of Morton trustees convened a June 30 special meeting where they revoked contracts and pay-raises for almost a dozen administrators.
The subset of the board, led by new Chair Frank J. Aguilar, ripped out the changes the board had just approved June 26 as part of President Stan Fields’s proposed $796,000 cost-saving reorganization. The mini-board also rescinded new vendor contracts and reversed the decision to fire several long-time contractors.
At the June 26 meeting, the female trustees of the board, Melissa Cundari, Susan Banks and Frances Reitz, objected to the reorganization plan and voted as a bloc against it, losing 4-3.
Cundari, Reitz and Banks joined President Aguilar on June 30. Absent were
Vice Chair Anthony Martinucci, Secretary Joe Collazo and Trustee Joseph Belcaster. All votes were 4-0.
Aguilar assumed the position of board chair after the April 2017 elections, replacing Martinucci, who now serves as Vice Chair. Aguilar served as State Representative from Cicero between 2002-04, as the first Latino Republican lawmaker in the General Assembly. In an unusual quirk of local politics, Aguilar was accidently defeated in 2004 by Democrat Michelle Chavez, who allegedly ran as a “ghost candidate,” promoted by Aguilar himself. Aguilar now works for the Town of Cicero as the director of community affairs and special projects.
A 4-3 split vote is unusual for the Morton board, which has had very few contested votes in the past few years.
Morton College is one of the state’s smallest, and oldest, community colleges. The school was founded in 1924. About 5,400 students — 2,400 full-time — take classes in five buildings with a footprint of about two city blocks in south Cicero. The school has a budget of $2.3 million and employs around 65 full-time tenured professors and about 315 employees total.
Fields’ new plan ousted three of four academic deans, and an assistant dean, doling out their responsibilities to an academic provost, who was given a 15 percent raise from $106,593 the previous year to $122,581.
“The three deans did not find out their contracts weren’t going to be renewed until after the reorganization plan was publicly posted the Thursday prior to the June 26 meeting,” said Faculty Union President Michele Mohr in an email. “These changes were proposed without any consultation with faculty and would have greatly impacted the responsibilities of the department and program chairs,” she wrote. The college’s HR director apologized to the deans, Mohr said.
Trustees did not respond to phone messages and emails left for comment. Morton College Director of Communications and Community Outreach Blanca Jara did not respond to emails or calls. Jara’s new $56,925 contract, up from $55,000 in FY 2017, was cancelled at the special board meeting.
Fields has weathered an uneven tenure at Morton. A former K-12 superintendent with no higher education experience, Fields’s qualifications were questioned by members of the faculty when he began in 2015. Morton College paid Fields $233,000 in base salary in FY2017. Fields declined to respond to interview requests for this story.
An autocratic leadership style and large changes launched without faculty input were cited when Fields received a vote of “no confidence” from the faculty in September 2016. The board stood behind him, even as Fields proposed an earlier reorganization plan in February, which he said would save $112,000. The trigger was the departure of Provost Muddassir Siddiqi, who was hired as president of Houston Community College.
But a majority of board members could not support the most recently proposed plan. Fields’s reorganization gave some administrators two-year contracts with generous raises. For example, Billy Jacklin, the 30-something newly hired athletic director, took on a second role as director of student activities. Jacklin saw his pay increase from $80,000 in FY 2016 to $111,780. Anthony Ray, executive director of human resources and ombudsman of Morton College, got a $29,000 raise from $123,000 $151,905.00, or a 24 percent spike.
Former Berwyn Police Chief Frank Marzullo, now serving as Morton’s Executive Director of Operations, received a 23 percent pay raise of almost $29,000 from $118,810 to $146,730. According to the reorganization chart, Marzullo took on added duties of “Vendor and Contract relations.”
Marzullo currently oversees the campus police department, food service, theater, bookstore, facilities and operations and financial aid departments. Marzullo’s was the only new administrative contract not rescinded by the board at the June 30 special meeting. It was unclear whether Marzullo’s new duties and raise were cancelled by the board when the reorganization was cancelled. Marzullo did not return calls and messages for clarification.
Fields’ plan also cancelled contracts for two politically connected PR firms, possibly goring the political ox of Cicero Town President Larry Dominick, who is closely connected with some of the college trustees.
The college has paid $112,500 yearly to Glenview-based Victory Media Group, which also provides publicity services for the Town of Cicero. The company and president Jeff Davis have donated more than $8,500 to Dominick’s campaign committee. Fields also proposed eliminating the $54,000-per-year contract for fundraising services provided by Jeff Davis’s wife, Sallie Nyhan, for the Friends of Morton College Foundation. The restructuring also cancelled a $48,000 contract with Res Publica, a Chicago PR firm run by Guy “Chip” Chipparoni. All of these contracts were restored after the June 30 special meeting, attorney Michael Del Galdo told the board.
Fields had also hoped to outsource the college’s IT support by hiring a “Managed Services” company, Lombard-based Single Path, for $15,000 per month.
“The main concern was that no members of the IT department were included in the decision-making process,” Mohr explained in an email. There were allegations that the bid process was incorrectly followed, Mohr said.
The Higher Learning Commission accrediting agency placed the college under “Action with Interim Monitoring” status in March after a site visit last fall. HLC had placed Morton on “Action” status in 2005 but that designation was removed.
The HLC report pointed out a perception of poor communication between the president and the faculty and staff. They also said the board meddled in hiring decisions.
“[T]here remains a perception with employees that the board unduly influences hiring decisions for administrators and staff and that in many of these cases new hires minimally meet job qualifications,” the report said.
A follow-up “focus visit” is planned for fall semester. The board and college administration must prove that they have taken steps to improve, including transparency, communication, ethics and integrity, and keeping focus on the college’s educational role and public mission, Mohr said.
A new contract for Fields was absent from the material on which the board voted June 26 and 30. It remains to be seen whether the board will continue to be divided in the new fiscal year.
— Morton College trustees nix almost all administrator, vendor contracts —