NAPERVILLE, Ill. – Dozens of former elected officials in suburbs surrounding Chicago are collectively receiving tens of thousands of dollars a year in pension benefits, even though they mostly worked part time.
Besides the question of whether part-time work as an alderman, mayor or clerk deserves such benefits, critics say the payouts are an unfair burden on local taxpayers. Some say they also demonstrate a failure of the state's pension reform plan to go far enough in easing a crisis that has left Illinois mired in debt.
"Only in Illinois would part-time public service come with a lifetime pension," said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of Openthebooks.com, a government finance transparency website based in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst. "These instances are why the state Legislature's recent pension reform didn't go far enough. All these outrageous `one off' examples add millions to property and sales taxes."
The Daily Herald used an open records request to find that 42 former suburban officials who worked mostly part time will collectively receive more than $200,000 this year in retirement benefits.
Even some officials in line to collect pensions are questioning whether it's fair.
Naperville city councilman Grant Wehrli tried to do away with his pension eligibility but was voted down by fellow council members.
Once officials have entered the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund they can't opt out without such a vote or without stepping down.
"In my opinion, there's no way you can look at the role of city councilman and find that it's deserving of a lifetime pension," Wehrli told the Daily Herald.
Others contend there's nothing wrong with how things are.
"Here's what I say about pensions for elected officials: If they're putting in the hours, you should get it," said former Naperville city councilman Dick Furstenau, who will receive nearly $2,700 this year.