Editorial: Taxpayers shouldn't cover parks lobbyist's pension
The Illinois Association of Park Districts isn't a government agency. It's a private trade organization for park and conservation districts.
It isn't accountable to taxpayers, and doesn't have to comply with government transparency laws requiring public meetings and open records.
Yet, its top employees get lifetime public pensions after retirement. And, its leaders exploit that perk in a way that costs taxpayers and hurts rank-and-file state retirees by souring attitudes toward public pensions in general, even those that aren't six figures a year.
Illinois Association of Park Districts CEO Peter Murphy's pension will be well into six figures, and taxpayers are covering most of it, as Daily Herald Watchdog Editor Jake Griffin wrote Wednesday. If Murphy retired today, the 64-year-old could collect $227,500 next year.
Murphy made $360,000 last year, a salary that rose 12 percent over the last three years. He wouldn't disclose his current pay and, as a nongovernment employee, he doesn't have to.
Murphy's pay and the IAPD's operating expenses largely come from member park districts, which get the money from taxpayers. Murphy's raises boost his pension, which is calculated on the four highest-paid consecutive years.
"They are spiking salaries," said Louis Kosiba, head of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. And they've been doing it for years. Former IAPD head Ted Flickinger gets a pension that will total $245,867 this year, the third-highest in IMRF. His pay rose 86 percent in the three years before he retired, from $183,000 in 2006 to $341,000 in 2009.
Meanwhile, the IAPD contributed 28.6 percent of salaries last year toward the pensions. That money also comes from taxpayers, paid by park districts in IAPD member fees. Employees like Murphy pay 4.5 percent of their salaries. In his case, that's $200,553 contributed over 35 years at the IAPD, less than what he'd get back in one year of pension income.
Public pension excesses in recent years frequently have been brought to light by government watchdogs or curtailed by state law, and many have been scaled back. Against prolonged public pressure to rein in abuses that make millionaires out of state retirees, the IAPD kept on with business as usual.
We lay that in the laps of the 18 IAPD board members, including several from the suburbs: IAPD Board Chairwoman Diane Main, a Westmont Park District trustee; Grayslake Community Park District Trustee Gayle Cinke; Mundelein Park District Trustee Kevin Dolan; Kane County Board member John Hoscheit; and Bloomingdale Park District Trustee Mike Vogl.
Why should nongovernment lobbying organizations have public pensions? Why should taxpayers pay for them? The IAPD should ask those hard questions, and so should lawmakers, with an eye toward swiftly making changes.