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updated: 12/7/2010 8:53 AM

Douse agency chief who feels burned

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Raise your hand if you've lost a job in the last three years. Raise your hand if you've kept your job but took a pay cut, pay freeze or some furlough days in the past three years. That everyone?

OK, so seeing all those hands, can you believe what you're reading about the head of the Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago?

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Maybe you missed it, but Richard Lanyon, the head of the agency that oversees water quality in Cook County, sent a memo to the elected board members saying he will quit rather than sacrifice 75 days of extra pay he will lose because of cuts the board voted to approve.

We'd hoped these kinds of generous government benefits were dropped long ago, but they still are in place at the oft-ignored water agency.

It currently gives workers one day of pay for every year of work when employees leave, up to 30 days. It also gives them a day's pay for every two sick days accrued but not used. But starting Jan. 1, workers won't get the pay for years of service and sick-time pay will be cut to 15 days.

The policy change would cost Lanyon, 73 and a 47-year employee of the water reclamation district, 75 days of pay to which he believes he's entitled. After four years at the top, Lanyon is paid $254,000 a year. So, 75 days of extra pay amounts to a $73,269 loss if he stays on. We understand public employees don't think the rules should be changed mid-career, but the costs to those of us paying the bills have just become unjustifiable.

In protest, Lanyon said he would rather quit than lose what he believes is owed him. "I'm not the only person affected by this," Lanyon told Daily Herald Staff Writer Jake Griffin. "Others are feeling burned as well."

Now, show of hands for those who think Lanyon and water reclamation district workers are being asked to make a sacrifice unfairly. Anyone? We're not raising ours, either.

What's more galling is Lanyon noting the board has three meetings between now and Dec. 16, and if board members don't reverse their decision by then, he will submit his resignation.

We don't know Lanyon. Board President Terry O'Brien said he's been a "great public servant" who's given 47 years to the agency. We take O'Brien at his word, but the notion of a public employee a manager, no less essentially threatening his bosses this way must not be tolerated. The notion that a government worker would publicly issue an ultimatum saying, "Give me my money or I quit"? That's just brazen bullying.

This is a prime example why government officials must review their pay and benefits and end any such outdated extras. They also must find all reasonable pension savings for future and current employees. Most of us have sacrificed pay and benefits. We've all seen our retirement plans take a hit. If Lanyon doesn't get that, well, it's time he cleaned out his desk.

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