Why parks director with four jobs gets to keep his pensions

A parks executive holding jobs in four suburban districts is eligible to continue participating in a statewide taxpayer-funded pension program, an investigation has determined.

Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund administrators allowed Joe Vallez to remain in the pension plan after three of the park districts submitted affidavits from board members attesting Vallez meets the minimum work requirement of 1,000 hours annually per job to participate in IMRF. The North Berwyn, Marengo and Justice park board also ratified resolutions codifying Vallez's workload, another requirement of IMRF.

Each district claimed Vallez works more than 1,000 hours a year. However, North Berwyn officials stated his contract requires 40-hour work weeks, or about 2,000 hours a year. That means Vallez is required to work, among all the jobs, about 4,000 hours a year, or an 11-hour workday every day of the year.

IMRF Executive Director Louis Kosiba was unmoved by the evidence provided by the park districts to prove Vallez's workload, writing that “little could be concluded from much of the information.” Nonetheless, Kosiba cited the board members' “significant” willingness to legally attest to Vallez's eligibility as his reason to allow Vallez to continue participating in the pension program.

“As prudent public officials, the park board members who passed these resolutions were clearly aware of the extensive liability to their districts resulting from their actions as well as the serious criminal charges that can result from knowingly making a false statement to a pension fund,” Kosiba wrote in letters sent to each district.

If it had been determined Vallez was working less than 1,000 hours at any of the jobs, that portion of his salaries would not count toward his future pension.

Vallez's current annual salaries from the three park districts amount to $178,691, according to IMRF records. North Berwyn pays $109,478, Justice pays $36,919, and Marengo pays $32,294. That's down from the combined $244,714 he received from the districts in 2015.

The pay decrease will have little effect on his eventual pension because IMRF calculates pension rates on a participant's highest-paid 48 consecutive months during the final decade of employment. Vallez, who turns 57 this month, can start collecting his pension in three years without any penalties.

Meanwhile, Vallez was able to supplement the lost income with a fourth job late last year, but it doesn't count toward his pension.

Vallez picked up a $6,000-a-month contract with the Bensenville Park District in December, which was set to expire in April. Instead, it was extended through the end of 2017 and will pay him more than $72,000 for the 12½ months with Bensenville. He also gets a $100-a-month vehicle stipend.

With the Bensenville job, his combined four salaries will be more than $250,000 this year.

Vallez did not respond to requests for comment about the investigation and his contract extension. But in December, he said his management style allows him to lead multiple agencies simultaneously.

“I like to put people in place and make them accountable for doing their job,” Vallez said at the time. “I bring great leadership skills.”

Rich Johnson, president of the Bensenville Park Board, said he's not concerned about the amount of time Vallez works for the district.

“It's irrelevant,” Johnson said. “He's getting the work done and the job that we tasked him to do is getting done. Physically being in the building is not what we hired him for.”

In Vallez's newest contract with the Bensenville Park District, performance benchmarks are outlined, including working with consultants on a district master plan and analyzing district operations.

Johnson said the work Vallez is doing for the district couldn't be completed any faster if a full-time director had been hired, and he believes Vallez's contract saves the district money.

“If we would have hired a new director, that would run in the $120,000 salary range with a pension and benefits,” Johnson said.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.