The former longtime Carpentersville fire chief who was on paid administrative leave just before he retired last month said the village didn't pay him to leave. Moreover, the separation agreement he signed says that he could be asked to consult with the village when it hires a permanent replacement.
John Schuldt, who was with the department for 33 years, said he retired to pursue other opportunities. He has not said what his next career move will be.
"I chose to retire," Schuldt said, adding that he has a good working relationship with Village Manager J. Mark Rooney. "The department can function without me. Nobody's irreplaceable, and I chose to seek out other opportunities."
Schuldt, 53, received nearly $29,000 in unused sick and vacation days, according to the agreement he signed with the village. He said his reasons for retiring are between him and his family.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Daily Herald requested copies of all correspondence between Schuldt, the village manager and the board of trustees within the previous month. The village partially denied the request, but did release the separation agreement and several emails, none of which outlined why Schuldt was retiring. The Illinois Attorney General's office is now reviewing whether the village will need to release the information it initially withheld.
Schuldt's retirement came nearly two weeks after he had been placed on paid administrative leave.
In exchange for signing the agreement, Schuldt received:
• $14,621.54 for 30 accrued sick days.
• $14,354.70 for 235.62 hours of earned vacation time.
• Health benefits for him and his family through March 31 that cost $1,669 a month, according to Linda Mogren, the village's director of human resources.
• Assurance that the village board and officials will not hurt his reputation by making negative comments about him. In return, Schuldt cannot make any disparaging statements about the village to any third party.
Both parties also agreed not to take the other to court and that the agreement should not be interpreted as an admission of liability or of any wrongdoing by Schuldt or the village.
Schuldt won numerous accolades during his time in Carpentersville.
Last year, he helped the village secure a Governor's Hometown Award for a Sept. 11 monument dedicated to the village's firefighters and to those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks. Schuldt and the department raised more than $15,000 to create the monument.
In 2011, Schuldt was named fire chief of the year by the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association for his help in creating a healing field in Carpenter Park that honored 1,900 Vietnam War veterans missing in action.
In 2005, he deployed several firefighters to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina to help fight fires and rebuild homes.
For many years, Schuldt also helped raise thousands of dollars for locals battling breast cancer.
He was hired in 1980 as a full-time firefighter in the village. With the exception of a one-year stint as acting village manager, he had been fire chief since 1996.
As part of the agreement, Schuldt will assist with the transition if the village hires a new fire chief -- Assistant Fire Chief John Skillman is now acting chief.
Rooney said the village is required by state law to issue vacation payouts and that the village's personnel manual has a policy that pays departing employees for some of their sick days.
"He didn't get a special deal at all," Rooney said.
Schuldt was among the highest-paid employees in the village.
His total compensation last year was $177,984.73, which includes his $129,509.09 salary.
He made $3,981.70 during the 11 days he was on administrative leave, Mogren said. Officials said he was eligible to retire several years ago at 75 percent of his salary.
Village President Ed Ritter declined to say why Schuldt's retirement required a separation agreement. He referred those questions to Rooney, who said he doesn't discuss personnel matters.
John Regan, an Elgin-based municipal attorney who has drafted multiple separation agreements, says he has never written one for a fire chief. They typically don't need one because they have a good pension and benefits, he said.
"It's not common," Regan said. "(But) if you're running a fire department or you're a police chief, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a separation agreement of some sort. It's basically buying peace between the parties."