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Local

Former lawmaker hopes to improve transparency as NIU trustee

DeKALB – Sunday marked state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, jumping out of the frying pan of the Illinois General Assembly and into the fire of Northern Illinois University’s Board of Trustees.

“Bob Pritchard has been a good friend to NIU, is a strong advocate for higher education and keenly understands the importance of our university to the region and state, along with the challenges we face,” NIU acting President Lisa Freeman said in a statement. “We welcome him to the Board of Trustees and look forward to working with him in the future.”

When trustee Robert Boey resigned, Pritchard, 73, offered a number of suggestions to Gov. Bruce Rauner for suitable candidates to the board.

Ultimately, Rauner decided it was best for Pritchard to finish out the remainder of Boey’s term, which ends in January.

This required Pritchard to resign from the House on Sunday. Pritchard said it will be up to the Republican Party chairs in his district to select a replacement for his House seat leading up to the November election.

Pritchard, like the rest of the board, will not receive compensation for his services.

“The university has such a big footprint in this area and impact on the local economy,” Pritchard said.
“I certainly have been trailing the issues in the area, and I thought I could add something to the discussion.”

Although Pritchard said he welcomes the new role, there are some university issues he feels could be improved.

With the disproportionate number of Freedom of Information Act requests for NIU compared with competing universities, Pritchard said the university needs to find better ways to communicate and be transparent.

In doing so, the university could eliminate the costs of excessive FOIAs and lawsuits stemming from a lack of transparency, such as the suit nullifying former NIU President Doug Baker’s $600,000 severance agreement because of an Open Meetings Act violation.

“When we have to hire extra people to fill all of the FOIA requests, that’s not the intent of the law, and that’s not what citizens want,” Pritchard said. “Let’s make information available and not let it affect government service at any level.”

During its June meeting, the Board of Trustees heard a presentation on the progress made by a presidential search preparation committee, which spent months standardizing the best practices for the search, identifying job description and points of pride characteristics and outlining presidential contracts.

The goal is to find a permanent NIU president by next summer, but Pritchard said he hopes it does not take that long.

“Searches take too much time and cost too much,” Pritchard said. “I hope they identified the kind of person they want and feel they ought to move forward with identifying requirements in the shortest amount of time.”

Finding the right candidate and acclimating them to the university policies and the community can be a multi-year process, he added.

In the discussions to revitalize the Annie Glidden North neighborhood, Pritchard said he would like to see nonprofits play a larger role to ensure residents have food, housing and safety.

“The government can’t do it alone,” Pritchard said.

Reflecting on his 15 year of service in state government, Pritchard still considers the new school funding formula a major victory. In September, he got another win for education, as
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law legislation Pritchard sponsored, which aims to help people older than 21 get their high school diploma.

Although the new funding formula was passed last year, Pritchard said it is important for the Legislature to keep pushing the concept of equitable school funding. In that regard, a professional review panel has been formed to examine whether any changes in the formula are necessary.

“We never funded education the way it should be, and it became too easy to shift the responsibility to local property taxpayers, which is why we have such outrageous taxes today,” Pritchard said.

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