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Lobbyists Drawing Lucrative Pensions Partially Paid By Taxpayers

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Pam Zekman Pam Zekman
Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Pam Zekman serves on CBS 2 Chicago’s...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – They aren’t government employees. They are in effect lobbyists, but their salaries and pensions are funded in part by your tax dollars.

As CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports, one of those groups is Township Officials of Illinois (TOI), which lobbies extensively to preserve township government and to oppose reforms that critics say could cut wasteful spending.

For example, it costs northwest suburban Avon Township taxpayers about $800,000 a year to maintain 11 miles of roads in unincorporated areas, “when the county could more cost effectively handle those roads,” according to Township Supervisor Sam Yingling.

But Yingling says legislative efforts to reform township government are thwarted by TOI, which is funded in part by taxpayers through membership fees paid by township officials.

“The conflict that I see,” said Yingling, “is the fact that you have a private organization that is using public funds to lobby against the best interests of the people.”

TOI has four full time staff members, including two registered lobbyists in line to receive pensions from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), pensions that are partly paid for by taxpayers.

“No lobbyist should be eligible to collect a public pension,” says Yingling.

TOI’s Executive Director, Bryan E. Smith, declined to disclose his salary or the salaries of other TOI staffers, but federal records show TOI paid Smith $101,720 last year.

Based on the formula used by the IMRF to calculate pensions, Smith could collect an annual pension of more than $75,000 if he worked the maximum number of years, even if his salary remained the same.

“This is the ultimate irony,” Andy Shaw, Executive director of the Better Government Association, said about the publicly funded pension benefits to be paid to “a group of non-government employees with no accountability, no freedom of information, no open meetings fighting for a branch of government we probably don’t need.”

There are other examples. The Illinois Municipal League lobbies to give municipalities “a powerful resource and voice in Springfield,” its website says. It also has backed public pension reforms.

But, ironically, the IML gave its former Executive Director, Kenneth Alderson, cash for his unused sick and vacation time and Alderson confirmed that boosted his pension by $20,000 a year. He now collects $185,892 a year pension from IMRF.

There are now 12 IML employees in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

And then there’s the Illinois Association of Park Districts, which represents park districts and forest preserves and currently has nine employees paying in to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

Before he retired, the Association of Park Districts allowed its Past President and CEO, Ted Flickinger, to cash out his unused sick and vacation time, built up over 30 years. That boosted Flickinger’s salary from $199,523 in fiscal year 2008 to $311,874 in 2009, the year before he retired.

Under the IMRF formula for calculating pensions, that helped boost Flickinger’s pension to $226,572, the BGA found.

“These individuals,” said Shaw, “will end up costing taxpayers potentially millions of dollars in pensions for nongovernmental work.”

Flickinger and Alderson told the BGA that what happened with their pensions is fair, reasonable and allowed by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

A retirement fund spokeswoman says that under current state laws all three organization can participate in its pension fund because they are funded in part with tax dollars and public officials are on their boards.

Spokesmen for the organizations say they provide both lobbying and educational services that directly serve the public.

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