Grayslake Village Manager Mike Ellis' base salary of more than $259,000, benefits and perks for 2011 were dissected in a new study by a group questioning what it calls overly generous compensation packages for government employees.
Conservative-leaning For the Good of Illinois, a government accountability group, focused on Ellis in this year's "Big Dogs" report because he's the state's highest paid village manager or administrator, Executive Director Bruno Behrend said Friday. All 13 officials on the list are from the suburbs.
Ellis said there is value in organizations or individuals scrutinizing all aspects of government spending. He said he was aware of For the Good of Illinois' report on his pay.
"I guess the only thing I would say is, I support the right of people to have an opinion in it," Ellis said.
Behrend said taxpayers no longer can afford what the group considers to be excessive salaries and pensions for government employees such as Ellis, whose base went from $120,585 in 2000 to $259,252 in 2011. He questioned how Ellis more than doubled his pay in 11 years.
"Is paying this guy this much money the best use of our tax dollars?" Behrend said.
Grayslake Mayor Rhett Taylor said while he understands the criticism of Ellis' compensation, village residents are receiving good value. He said Ellis has kept the village debt-free, saved money by outsourcing jobs typically performed by municipal employees and crafts balanced budgets.
Moreover, Taylor said, Ellis always hits his performance goals set by the village board and has helped bring more business to town, such as the FedEx Ground facility that opened in 2011. He said Ellis' 28 years with Grayslake account for his climb up the salary scale.
"He works seven days a week," Taylor said. "He's there (in village hall) whenever we need him."
Grayslake Trustee Jeff Werfel said Ellis deserves praise for his work, pointing to an Illinois Policy Institute study on village operations. Grayslake has reduced non-police officer staffing by 40 percent since 2003 with no loss of service delivery, according to the policy institute.
If Grayslake kept up with population increases and inflation, its spending would have been $23.7 million in the 2010-11 budget year. Instead, the study says, Grayslake's expenditures were $15.4 million because of cost reductions.
"A critical factor in this accomplishment?" Werfel said. "The village management constant of Mike Ellis."
For the Good of Illinois, which obtained documents from scores of governments through open-record requests, also questioned the perks and benefits in Ellis' contract.
The deal provides him with a second taxpayer-funded deferred compensation retirement plan, a free whole-life insurance policy, complete tuition reimbursement for continuing education, and travel and all expenses annually for a "national conference." He'd receive his full salary and health insurance for a year if he's fired.
"Without a full, in-depth compensation analysis, we estimate that Ellis has a contract worth between $350,000 and $400,000 annually," the organization's review states.
Glenview's Lawrence Hileman, at $245,653, placed second on For the Good of Illinois' list of the 13 highest paid village managers or administrators in Illinois in 2011. Rounding out the top five are Gurnee's now-retired James Hayner at $239,620, Northbrook's Richard Nahrstadt at $236,689 and Skokie's Albert Rigoni at $230,521.
Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen's $255,283 in 2010 was in the top tier of the organization's statewide list last year, according to For the Good of Illinois. The organization listed him in 13th place this year, citing a 22 percent cut that took his 2011 salary to $200,379.
For the Good of Illinois was founded five years ago by Adam Andrzejewski, an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2010 Republican primary. Behrend said the group's openthebooks.com has all local, municipal and state salary and pension information updated through 2011.