Lawmakers to probe local government pension practices

Move comes as parks officials in Highland Park land large bonuses to pad pensions

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Two Illinois lawmakers on Monday called for hearings to look into local government pension practices after learning how officials with the Park District of Highland Park intentionally used large bonuses to hike the pension of a district executive by more than $50,000.
State Rep. Karen May, D-Highland Park, said she was "upset" to find out that salaries for executives at the Park District were far higher than the Chicago-area norm for similar posts — in part to boost pensions for those executives.
May sits on the House pension committee and called for hearings to delve into the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, which manages taxpayer-backed pensions for thousands of local government employees.
The pension committee's chairman, state Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park, said the panel will look at limiting the impact of large, late-career pay bumps on final pensions, among other issues. The hearings could start this fall.

A Tribune story on Sunday detailed how outgoing Park District Executive Director Ralph Volpe landed $270,999 in bonuses in 2008, boosting his compensation that year to $435,203.

Volpe, who retired at 57, receives a pension this year of $166,332. His pension likely would be about $110,000 had he received more typical annual salary hikes of 4 percent instead of the huge hike and bonus in 2008.

In another case, Park District finance director Kenneth Swan received a five-year contract that called for bonuses of about $75,000 a year. He has not yet retired.

Park board President Lorry Werhane has acknowledged that officials authorized large bonuses on top of salary hikes partly to pad pensions as a reward for a job well done. May and McCarthy said they might call in park commissioners from Highland Park to testify at this fall's hearings.

Officials in the North Shore suburb credit Volpe and Swan with greatly enhancing the amenity-rich Park District, doubling its property tax collections and overseeing the opening of a new recreation center.