NIU trustees speak on ‘coffee fund’ allegations after meeting

Published: Friday, Sept. 21, 2012 5:30 a.m.CDT

DeKALB – No one publicly mentioned the recent controversy at Northern Illinois University during the first full Board of Trustees meeting of the year Thursday, but a few trustees spoke afterward about allegations of employee misconduct and an off-the-books bank account.

“These are serious matters, and I believe the administration is moving forward in the most appropriate way to address these matters,” said Cherilyn Murer, chairwoman of the NIU Board of Trustees. “I hope to see a resolution as quickly as possible.”

Two NIU administrators left quietly July 31 after signing separation agreements that showed they faced “serious and substantial allegations of misconduct.”

An outside firm was hired in June to investigate Robert Albanese, former associate vice president of the Division of Finance and Facilities, and John Gordon, former Convocation Center director. Both men, who worked under the Division of Finance and Facilities headed by Executive Vice President Eddie Williams, resigned July 31.

The Chicago Tribune reported earlier this month that an anonymous source said they both had university property in their homes for personal use, and that Gordon assigned an employee to clean his home during work hours on several occasions.

Their separation agreements showed the university provided Gordon with six months of health insurance and three months’ salary when he resigned, worth about $36,240 total.

The university also paid Albanese $45,000 at the time of his resignation, which was based on his annual salary of $198,553.

Trustee John Butler said he thought the agreements were appropriate.

“I support the efforts of the university to save money,” he said. “[The agreements] put us in a position to where we could move forward without having to spend a great deal of time dealing with personality conflicts. ... I think they absolutely saved money.”

Butler would not elaborate on the personality conflicts he mentioned. He said the steps taken were sensible and saved NIU from spending a significant amount of time and money for litigation.

Trustee Wheeler Coleman said trustees have been briefed on the ongoing investigation into the “coffee fund,” a bank account that was brought to NIU officials’ attention several weeks after Gordon and Albanese resigned.

A DeKalb Iron and Metal Co. employee said NIU employees had been making deposits into the fund with money from sales of university-owned scrap metal for the past 25 years.

The coffee fund held $2,187 when it was closed in August after it had been brought to the university’s attention Aug. 3. Records from DIMCO show that the fund had collected more than $13,000 since 2005.

NIU officials said money from the nonuniversity bank account was deposited into the university’s general fund when it was closed. A spokesman said the money was used for retirement parties and various social events. Four employees in NIU’s Materials Management Department were placed on paid leave for a maximum of 30 days, and NIU officials formed a committee to review NIU’s property control procedures.

Coleman said he believes corrective actions are in place, but he said he was reluctant to comment on an ongoing investigation into the fund.

“I can assure you that every Board of Trustee member is concerned about the misconduct misgivings,” Coleman said. “Yes, we are concerned.”

Trustees Anthony Iosco and Robert Marshall declined to comment Thursday. Williams also declined to comment.

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