The union representing teachers and staff at South Suburban College has donated more than $60,000 to the elected official who serves as chairman of the South Holland school and helps set their taxpayer-funded salaries, the Better Government Association has learned.
Frank Zuccarelli has been on the board of the community college since 1978, and has served as chairman since 1987. He holds two other elected posts – Thornton Township supervisor and Thornton Township Democratic committeeman – and helps oversee several campaign funds that support his political activities.
The political action committee of the Cook County College Teachers Union – which represents more than 400 faculty and staff members at South Suburban College – donated a total of $60,053 to those funds since 1999, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
The most recent donation from the union – to a campaign committee called the Thornton Township Regular Democratic Organization – amounted to $1,250 and was reported on Aug. 29, state records show.
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The community college board votes on contracts with the union – meaning Zuccarelli and his colleagues help set the pay and benefits received by teachers and staff.
Under a current contract expiring next year, the faculty received no raise in the first year and a 5 percent raise in the second, says Perry Buckley, president of the Chicago-based Cook County College Teachers Union.
The terms were not as sweet as the previous four-year agreement, which boosted the faculty’s pay by 5 percent a year, or by a total of 20 percent, Buckley says.
In fiscal year 2010, the average full-time faculty member at South Suburban had a base salary of $68,363, slightly higher than the statewide average of $66,582, according to Illinois Community College Board data.
Despite the apparent conflict of interest, Zuccarelli says he sees nothing wrong with accepting union donations. He not only has voted on every contract involving the union’s members in recent years, he says he plans to do so again after deals for full-time faculty and staff expire next summer.
Buckley likewise says he sees nothing wrong with the donations.
“We give money to people who we think can help us,” he says. “Do we support Frank because he’s chairman of the South Suburban College board? Yeah. . . . But there’s no quid pro quo.”
South Suburban’s administration has no problem with Zuccarelli pocketing the donations, and doesn’t believe they impact how he votes, says Patrick Rush, spokesman for the school, which serves about 17,000 students a year.
“The college doesn’t view it as a conflict of interest,” he says.
Rush apparently thinks highly of Zuccarelli.
Over the years, Rush donated more than $4,000 to Zuccarelli’s campaign funds, state records show.
This story was written and reported by BGA investigator Andrew Schroedter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9035.