A member of the College of DuPage‘s fundraising foundation has filed a defamation lawsuit against the school’s former chairwoman and three other critics, alleging they misrepresented her business dealings with the college and wrongly accused her of receiving “pay-to-play” deals.
College of DuPage Foundation board member Carla Burkhart, whose company Herricane Graphics designed and installed signs at the Glen Ellyn campus, alleged former Chairwoman Katharine Hamilton attacked the work to further her political career. She also named Hamilton’s allies, Kirk Allen of the Edgar County Watchdogs and Adam Andrzejewski of For the Good of Illinois, in the lawsuit. She accused them of writing untrue things about her and interfering with her contract.
Edgar County Watchdogs and For the Good of Illinois are government transparency groups that have been highly critical of the school.
Claire Ball, who ran unsuccessfully for college trustee in the spring election and publicly questioned Burkhart’s dealings, also is named in suit, which was filed Dec. 31 in DuPage County court. She could not be reached for comment.
According to the lawsuit, Herricane’s business “plummeted” after the criticism, dropping to about $145,000 in gross sales revenue in 2015 from an average of more than $300,000 in the four prior years.
Burkhart’s attorney, Joshua Feagans of Geneva, said he did not know how much of the prior business was from the College of DuPage. He said Burkhart had been “told to no longer send proposals” for work at the college.
“Her reputation has been damaged,” Feagans said. “The actions perpetrated by these individuals caused direct damage to her business.”
Hamilton, who resigned in December citing personal reasons, declined comment.
Andrzejewski called the lawsuit “frivolous” and predicted it will not withstand scrutiny.
“My actions have been above reproach from the start of the COD oversight investigation,” Andrzejewski said.
Allen said he would not be “intimidated” by the lawsuit.
“We have every intention of defending our work and ensuring the people’s right to report actions of local governments are not infringed upon,” Allen said.
College records show Burkhart’s company was paid more than $600,000 for work at the college during the past four years without submitting a single competitive bid. Some of that money went to subcontractors, her attorney said.
Much of the work was made possible through a contract that references her experience as an architect, though she is not an architect. College officials previously said they were not required to bid the work because it was a professional service and they believed using a boilerplate contract for architectural work was appropriate.
In February, a DuPage County grand jury subpoenaed documents related to Burkhart’s contracts.
The College of DuPage Foundation raises money for scholarships and school programs. Burkhart has been a board member since 2012.
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