Forbes - The 'Big Dogs' Of Illinois Municipal Government 2016

March 28, 2016 10:14 AM
Forbes
 
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By Adam Andrzejewski
 
At OpenTheBooks.com, we have completed our annual ‘Big Dogs’ salary report of municipal government. The results are most jaw-dropping ever…
 
At a time when many are complaining about Washington, D.C., our data shows that states and local units of government need a lot more scrutiny. That’s especially true in Illinois where corruption is our number one manufactured product.
 
Click here to see the highest to lowest 2015 municipal salaries. Click here to see the top all-time municipal pensions.
 
In Illinois, 72 small-town city and village managers out-earn every governor of the 50 states. Another 111 local employees of water districts, airport districts, park districts, counties, forest preserves, mass transit districts, health clinics and planning districts also earn more than the 50 governors ($180,000).
 
Let’s look at a few areas in more detail:
 
1. Village and City Managers Out-earn Every Governor of the 50 States
 
In Illinois, the top honors go to the administrators of comparatively small governments.  The top five highest pensionable salaries are Lawrence Hileman ($303,076) – Village of Glenview (pop. 45,417); Richard Nahrstadt ($263,392) – Village of Northbrook (pop. 33,170); Michael Ellis ($263,269) – Village of Grayslake (pop. 21,101); Reid Ottesen ($260,296) – Village of Palatine (pop. 69,350); Robert Kiely ($256,196) – City of Lake Forest (pop. 19,375). 
 
Rounding out the top ten are Michael Janonis ($250,544) – Village of Mount Prospect (pop. 54,505); Kevin Bowens ($242,397) – Village of Libertyville (pop. 20,431); Christopher Stephens ($240,000) – Village of Rosemont (pop. 4,236); Walter Bobkiewicz ($232,671) – City of Evanston (pop. 75,570); and Sean Stegall (229,917) – City of Elgin (pop. 110,145). 
 
Last year, the Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen received a $29,000 pensionable salary hike from $231,347 to $260,296. In 2011, the board cut Ottesen’s salary to $200,379 after we highlighted his $255,283 salary and 25 other ‘benefit buckets.’ But, just four years later, it’s back to $260,296.
 
At the local level, it’s not just the municipal managers getting in on the action.  Park District bosses are raking in huge salaries: Dominic Egizio ($270,713) – Joliet Park District; Timothy Dimke ($246,447) – Rockford Park District; Stephen Scholten ($224,107) – Arlington Heights Park District.
 
Water, airport, mass transit and forest preserve district chiefs are also making big money. Here’s a sample: Brian Dorn ($228,726) – North Shore Water Reclamation; Michael Palazzetti ($228,677) – DuPage County Forest Preserve; Jeffrey Nelson ($226,075) – Rock Island County MET; Bruce Carter ($199,477) – Metropolitan Airport Authority. 
 
2. Legal Corruption – Top Three Illinois ‘Municipal Salaried’ Employees Don’t Even Work for Government.
 
Unbelievably, politically connected private non-profit associations are clouted into the public retirement system with taxpayer-backed lifetime pensions. Taxpayers have no control over the amount of annual salary awarded at these private organizations, but it’s the salaries that drive the lifetime retirement payouts. Salary spiking – when salaries are jacked up for a short period to increase pensions or to just milk the system – is common. 
 
In 2015, the top two rank and file ‘municipal’ salaries are Peter Murphy ($352,382 – Illinois Association of Park Districts) and Brett Davis ($309,791 – Park District Risk Management Agency). Murphy has ‘earned’ $2.723 million since 2005 with a 140-percent salary spike. Davis is on-pace to earn $1 million in just under three years – up from ‘only’ $155,324 in 2005.
 
In 2015, former Executive Director of the Illinois Municipal League (IML) Larry Frang retired on a $169,900 annual pension. In Frang’s final ten years of employment, he received a triple in wages, from $130,812 to $392,423. His employer, IML, is so unaccountable that they haven’t filed an IRS income tax return since 1979. Read my Forbes piece, ‘Instrumentality of the State.’
 
3. Double Dipping School Administrators
 
Twenty-one highly compensated school administrators are now members of the municipal system, not the teacher’s system. Many are double-dipping:  receiving a ‘teacher’ retirement pension, while also rehired by a school under the ‘municipal’ plan.  This form of doubling-dipping is not prohibited under Illinois law.
 
For example, Mohsin Dada made $503,200 by double dipping the Teacher’s Retirement System and the Illinois Municipal system. Mohsin’s teacher pension is $254,700 and his current salary from North Shore School District 112 is $248,510 – up from $202,903 just three years ago (2012).
 
Ben Martindale is the Chief Education Officer (CEO) of North Chicago CUSD187, a failing school district. Martindale received total compensation of $473,931. This included a $299,768 pensionable salary (2015) and $174,163 in teacher’s pension after a career as superintendent of Gurnee public schools.
 
4. Rank-and-file County employees raking In hundreds of thousands of dollars
 
DuPage County has a history of living large. In 2002, county administrator Donald Zeilenga pulled in $383,156. In 2009, the chief of the state’s attorney’s criminal bureau Michael Wolfe hauled in $240,630. In 2011, county engineer Charles Tokarski made $340,147. 
 
In 2015, Deputy Sheriff Steven Derrick pulled in $221,908 ($76,843 FY2014).  DuPage Lt. Thomas Hilgenbrink made $207,257 ($108,922 FY2014). DuPage County ‘Chief of Staff’ Tom Cuculich pulled down $201,599, up from $98,350 (2003). 
 
DuPage County never disappoints. In 2014, first assistant state’s attorney Nancy Wolfe’s salary spiked to $248,083 and then she ‘retired.’ But, Wolfe didn’t stop working at DuPage. County Chairman Dan Cronin appointed her to head the county ethics commission – billing taxpayers at $185/hour.  So, in 2015, Wolfe made ‘part-time income’ of $80,000 as the ethics czar, in addition to her $98,492 ‘retirement’ pension.
 
In 2015, DuPage County had ten employees ‘earn’ nearly $2 million in pensionable salary. Now, is that ‘Moving DuPage Forward?
 
5. The managers of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) are racking up terrific pay hikes:
 
Over the last three years, Chief Investment Officer Shah Dhvani’s pensionable salary increased from $208,003 to $328,153. Executive Director Louis Kosiba’s salary increased from $126,703 in 2001 to $253,540 in 2015. That’s a $127,000 pay hike for the same job and title. These salaries are literally funded with government employee retirement dollars. At OpenTheBooks.com, we publish our comprehensive IL Snapshot Transparency reports on nearly each unit of local government across Illinois. Look up your hometown here. You can see the captured data on our website of 36,000 local units of government across America.
 
The historic definition of public service used to be ‘to serve the people.’ Now, our public servants have figured out how to game the system for personal gain.  Until taxpayers say enough is enough, the gravy train will continue to roll on.
 
Adam Andrzejewski is the Founder of OpenTheBooks.com – the world’s largest private repository of public spending.
 
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