Naperville City Council members now will weigh in on the hiring of public safety pensioners for municipal positions on the civilian side that also come with a tax-funded retirement benefit.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday evening for the shift in authority after hearing that the situation has involved only a handful of city employees, and after hearing both support and opposition to allowing the hirings to continue.
“The double dippin’ in the state of Illinois has got to stop,” said former council member Dick Furstenau.
He questioned the timing of one retiree’s acceptance for a city staff position and called the city to task for not giving more priority to current employees interested in moving within departments.
The term “double dipping” drew the ire of Naperville Fraternal Order of Police President Vince Clark, who sent a statement to local media as the council’s discussions were going on.
“Retired Naperville Police Officers receive a pension from the Naperville Police Pension Fund, not the City of Naperville,” Clark wrote in the email. “Just as the Naperville Fire Fighters receive their pension from the Naperville Fire Pension Fund. ... What most civilian employees are receiving is a pension that is funded by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (which is) completely separate from the Naperville Police Pension Fund and have no relation to one another.”
For some officials, however, the difference was essentially moot.
“This practice, to someone on the outside looking in, looks a little suspect,” said Councilman Grant Wehrli, one of those who asked that the matter be discussed by the council. “I’m not saying that anything nefarious happened.”
Yet while he said he is uncomfortable with the essential shortage of “internal controls,” Wehrli acknowledged that there is nothing illegal in Illinois about hiring a public safety pension participant for a civilian position.
“This is something that I don’t necessarily agree with, but those are the rules we have to live with,” he said.
Council member Doug Krause shared his misgivings about the hirings as well, although he ultimately voted in favor of the added layer of employment oversight.
“I think when someone decides to retire from the city, they are retired from the city. Give someone else a chance,” Krause said.
Council member Paul Hinterlong urged that all job openings be widely posted, rather than their availability being publicized largely in-house.
“I don’t see any reason why we would not be doing that,” Hinterlong said.
City Attorney Margo Ely, who also oversees human resources, took exception to the suggestion that there had been impropriety in the employment decisions.
“I’ve heard words like ‘practice,’ like this is some sort of a systematic issue,” said Ely, emphasizing that there were five hirings of the kind over the decade leading up to last July, a period during which the city hired 603 people. “I think that it’s important to note that each of these hires have been made after a competitive selection process.”
Ely said a recent hiring in the public works department questioned by Furstenau, like others made in this situation, were based on an opinion by department heads that those people were the best qualified.
“That hiring decision was merit-based and it was not a tainted decision,” she said.
Clark said the idea of restricting public safety retirees from civilian posts is unfair. He noted that Mayor A. George Pradel worked for many years as a police officer in the city before becoming a community service officer, and then the city’s top elected official.
“Should he not have been allowed to run for Mayor of Naperville, solely because he was a retired Naperville Police officer? Should he not have been allowed to become a community service officer after he retired? Should he not be allowed to collect both pensions?” Clark wrote. “Mayor Pradel met all of the qualifications for these positions, which enables him to collect his earned pensions.”