Man, I gotta get me one of them government jobs.
I mean, where else can you quit and get a $95,000 severance package?
Last time I quit a job, my severance was, uh, let’s see … nothing.
Well, not exactly nothing.
On my last day at work the boss took me to lunch at Red Robin. So I did get an order of bottomless steak fries out of the deal.
But then, of course, I wasn’t resigning from the public sector like Joliet’s suddenly former City Manager David Hales, who earned a whopping $89,584 separation payment plus $5,375 in unused vacation time after parting ways with 150 W. Jefferson St.
The kicker: he hadn’t even worked there a full year.
I guess he must have had some pretty nice bosses. Six of them – three-quarters of the City Council – signed off on the deal.
Still, I doubt he got any steak fries with it.
Given that his severance check is worth considerably more than my annual income, I’d like to think that Hales’ sweet deal was an anomaly. But then what would I know. … I’m only a taxpayer.
Because sweet deals are actually pretty commonplace in the public sector. Late-career salary adjustments, liberal pension rules and elected boards with no qualms about spending money that’s not their own make government administration a very attractive gig indeed.
Examples are easy enough to find.
Awhile back, for instance, Joliet Grade School District 86 “bumped” then-Superintendent Phyllis Wilson’s salary by 40 percent over a couple of years to boost her retirement benefits.
Board members argued Wilson was underpaid compared with leaders of comparably sized districts. And maybe she was.
But the fact that a good chunk of her $69,775 in raises came in the middle of the 2007-09 recession – an era of rampant wage freezes, pay cuts and layoffs – didn’t even seem to faze them.
A few years earlier, the Plainfield School Board granted then-Superintendent David Stanfield a four-month leave of absence so he could secure a larger retirement package from his previous employer in Texas.
Stanfield later returned the favor by abandoning his Plainfield post.
Still, it’s not like Stanfield invented double dipping. Government officials around here have been doing it for years.
Chief Fred Hayes and Commander Pat Kerr both retired from the Joliet Police Department a few years back with $120,000 pensions. The pair now holds the top two police posts in Elwood.
Will County Board Speaker Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort, has taken the practice one step further. In addition to his $24,000 County Board salary and $43,000 Frankfort Township supervisor salary, he also receives $6,651 a month in Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pensions for the two elected positions – even though he hasn’t retired yet.
Pension guidelines say you can do that if you’re 55 or older, and have paid into the IMRF for at least eight years prior to 2016.
Now don’t get me wrong. All of these folks played by the rules of their respective taxpayer-supported systems. If anything, kudos to you, lady and gentlemen, well played.
But then there’s always someone who has to go and push the envelope just a bit too far.
Lawrence Wyllie, former superintendent of Lincoln-Way High School District 210, came up with new angle. Shortly before retiring in 2013, Wyllie had payroll cut him a check for 64 unused vacation and sick days, plus a $16,000 “retirement stipend.”
After federal prosecutors questioned the legality of Wyllie’s retirement bonus, he graciously returned the money to the now cash-strapped district.
Unfortunately he’s still in hot water for allegedly misusing millions of dollars in bond money. His embezzlement trial was delayed indefinitely.
Still, whining about the excesses of bureaucratic largesse rarely does much good. Because in government, as in Vegas, the house always wins.
So there’s only one option left: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Anyone know a good city job I can quit?
• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.