Oak Lawn eliminates pensions for elected officials

  • Written by Jessie Molloy

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Oak Lawn board of trustees underwent significant turnover last month when three new trustees and a new mayor were sworn in; but the dysfunction and public fighting that has plagued the board since the Ernie Kolb administration continues.

During a contentious meeting Tuesday, one new trustee clashed with Trustee Carol Quinlan over the adoption of resolutions for cuts to their own benefits and a village staff appointment. The board voted to opt out of Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, meaning anyone elected to the board in the future will not receive a pension.

The resolution was proposed by Trustee Mike Carberry, who stated several times during Tuesday’s discussion that part-time public officials should not be given pensions.

“It’s a public service job,” Carberry stated. “Once we finish serving, the village should be done paying us.”

            Carberry and Trustees Tim Desmond, Alex Olejniczak and Terry Vorderer as well as Mayor Sandra Bury have already opted out of their pensions, but the new decision will prevent any official elected in the future from being eligible for it. Carberry, Desmond, Vorderer and Bury were elected to the board for the first time in April. Olejniczak was re-elected to a third four-year term.

            Trustee Carol Quinlan opposed the decision because it is irrevocable. Eliminating the pension is not wise because the decision might be regrettable 15 or 20 years down the road, Quinlan said. Quinland and Trustee Bob Streit voted against the measure.

The IMRF is one of the best-funded pensions in the state, and that the amount of money it represents to the village is so small that eliminating it would make no considerable difference to the village or the state, argued Streit. The board’s senior trustee also alleged that because of the 20-hour minimum work week set by the state for public officials to qualify for the pension program, trustees who voted to opt out are essentially saying they have no intention to work that time.

Streit’s comment sparked a heated exchange that became personal, particularly between Streit and Carberry and Olejniczak. Mayor Bury’s attempts to bring the conversation back on point were futile, as the three men continued to throw insults and allegations at one another with Streit being the most aggressive.

            The pension debate was not the only contested issue of the night. The mayoral appointment of Pat O’Donnell as village treasurer, replacing Jim McGovern, also caused some controversy. Streit and Quinlan, political allies who were both supporters of former Mayor Dave Heilmann, led the opposition with claims the board was not provided enough information to make the decision.

            Streit alleged O’Donnell was a contributor to Bury’s mayoral campaign, and that O’Donnell’s resume was not given to the board prior to the motion to appoint him was made.. Quinlan and Streit attempted to postpone the appointment until next month, but the motion was overruled and the board voted 4-2 to appoint O’Donnell.

            Streit also opposed a proposal, which ultimately passed 5-1, to change the policy regarding the availability of closed session tapes to board members. Streit alleged the policy is a road block to transparency in Bury’s administration, to which Vorderer contended that the measure will keep information leaks from occurring as they have in the past.

Under the old policy, closed session tapes could be obtained and listened to by any trustee at any time, and even copied. The new resolution prohibits copying, and requires trustees to first receive permission to listen to the tapes, and then do so at Village Hall. Trustees who support the policy argued it in no way prevents transparency because the information on the tapes is never supposed to be available to the public.