21 Aug 2014
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Councilmen Dump Their Pensions, But Still Keep Health Insurance

Naperville City Council members vote to opt out of state's retirement plan that would have paid annual pension of approximately $2,000 for life.

Councilmen Dump Their Pensions, But Still Keep Health Insurance

Naperville joined the growing number of municipalities where part-time elected officials opted out of participating in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

City council members voted 6-0 to delete pension participation from the benefits afforded to Illinois elected officials under a statewide policy during Tuesday’s city council meeting.

After some last-minute jockeying by Councilman Douglas Krause to table the resolution until the city council’s next meeting, when absent council members Judy Brodhead and Robert Fieseler could vote on it, Councilman Joe McElroy said the time was nigh.

“I think best thing for the city council at this point is put a stake at the heart of this issue so we can move on with running the city,” he said.

Naperville city council members are vested after they serve eight years or two terms. The state municipal retirement fund also changed its rules last year, requiring a majority of elected officials serving on municipal councils and local boards to complete a certification form stating that they worked 1,000 hours or more annually.

Since less than a majority of Naperville City Council members completed the form, the action overrode council members’ participation in the state retirement fund, requiring a resolution to opt out of pension benefits by a vote of six members or more.

All Illinois elected officials are eligible to participate in the state pension fund, including part-time local officeholders from suburbs and small towns who are paid stipends for their service on municipal or other local boards.

Retirement benefits for part-time elected officials has become a hot-button issue for voters in recent years. Mayor George Pradel earns a yearly salary of  $30,381 for his service as Naperville’s mayor and liquor commissioner. Council members earn about $13,000 annually.

McElroy offered an example of what city council members are giving up.

“Just to add some clarity to what we’re doing here, on May 1, 2019, I can start getting a monthly pension of $156 and that annual pension would be $1,872,” McElroy said, reading from his  statement of benefits from the state. ”That’s a real life example and if anyone wants to compare that with other pension benefits in public sector jobs can be my guest.”

While pension benefits for part-time local elected officials may amount to less than a few thousand dollars per year, an open records request by the Daily Herald found that 42 suburban officials who worked mostly part time will collectively receive more than $200,000 retirement benefits in 2014.

Tuesday’s vote to dump retirement benefits does not affect the city council’s health insurance benefits. City council members are eligible to participate in the same health insurance plan as Naperville’s full-time employees if they so choose.

According to data on the city’s website, the council, with the exception of Robert Fieseler and Paul Hinterlong, have racked up $80,098 in health insurance costs.

Fieseler suggested that council members take a two-year moratorium on participating in the city’s health insurance plan.

“Let’s see who is motivated to move on,” Fieseler said. “After six years people get less motivated to do the kind of detailed work they once did. If voters are in favor of term limits, than this operates against term limits because it favors incumbents staying in because the perks are good.”

Councilman Grant Werhli said he opted into the city’s larger health plan because of a “life changing event.” According to the city records, Werhli participated in the city’s plan during the calendar years of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, the latest year that salary information is available on the city’s website.

The councilman no longer participates in the city's health plan, per 2014 payroll data.

Werhli said that this is his last term as a city council member because he plans to run for the Illinois state legislature.

McElroy later added in an email that the question of whether council members should get small pensions was blown out of proportion.

"[It{ was blown out of proportion by the one who soon will trade up from city councilman, which pays an annual salary of approximately $13,000, for another part-time job, state representative, that pays almost $70,000 per year, not to mention a per diem of more than $100 for every day the legislature is in session," McElroy said taking a jab at fellow council member Werhli.

The resolution to terminate retirement benefits for Naperville’s elected officials is effective immediately.

This story was updated with new information.

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