New Bensenville leader about to run 4 park districts at once

  • Joe Vallez

    Joe Vallez

  • Bensenville Park District leaders have picked an interim director who already has jobs leading three other park districts.

    Bensenville Park District leaders have picked an interim director who already has jobs leading three other park districts. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/21/2016 9:22 AM

If the Bensenville park board was looking for someone with experience to be the district's interim director, they got what they wanted in Joe Vallez -- he is already running three other suburban park districts right now.

Vallez is executive director of the North Berwyn and Justice park districts, and he's superintendent of parks and recreation in Marengo. He'll keep those jobs while he takes over in Bensenville to replace Rick Robbins, who was fired by the park board earlier this month.

 

Vallez's Bensenville contract -- for $6,000 a month -- is expected to be ratified today by the park board, but not without concern from some board members in Bensenville and at Vallez's other jobs that paid him a combined $244,714 last year.

His multiple jobs, which have taxpayers in those three districts contributing to his eventual pension through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, have caught the attention of pension fund officials who note public employees must work a minimum of 1,000 hours a year per job to participate in IMRF. With his three jobs, that adds up to 58 hours of work every week of the year, before counting the Bensenville job.

"Our internal audit unit is going to investigate this situation," said IMRF spokesman John Krupa.

Vallez's contract with Bensenville won't be IMRF-eligible and he won't receive health care benefits, park district officials said.

Even so, Vallez's hiring wasn't without conflict. Two of the five commissioners voted against hiring Vallez. Commissioners John Wassinger and Tom Earley were the dissenting votes.

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Wassinger said he is concerned there are no stipulations about Vallez's time commitment to the park district and that no other candidates were presented to the board.

"I felt the employees of our agency and the residents of the district deserve us to make a knowledgeable decision, and the only way to do that is to see what options we have," he said. "We weren't given any, so we're making decisions in a vacuum."

But Rich Johnson, the park board president in Bensenville, said Vallez isn't expected to be in the office much. Johnson wanted someone to lead the agency while the board looked for a full-time executive director and so staff members could focus on doing their jobs. If he stayed a year, Vallez's annual pay in Bensenville would be $72,000.

"For our situation, we're not getting him 40 hours a week and we're not paying him for 40 hours a week, either," Johnson said. "Sometimes when you want something done, you give it to the busiest guy in the room."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Johnson said he expects Vallez to work for the park district no longer than six months, though Vallez said he hopes it won't take that long.

Vallez said his management style allows him to lead multiple agencies simultaneously and translates well to what Bensenville is seeking of an interim leader.

"I like to put people in place and make them accountable for doing their job," Vallez said. "I bring great leadership skills."

Vallez's career spans nearly three decades working in the Chicago and Chicago Ridge park districts in addition to his current roster of jobs. In 2015, he was paid $128,325 by North Berwyn, $81,393 by Justice and $34,996 by Marengo for a total combined salary of $244,714, according to IMRF records.

Meanwhile, during that same year, none of the districts he oversaw made budget, according to the districts' financial records. North Berwyn finished $200,059 over budget, Justice was $89,012 over budget, and Marengo's expenses were $18,847 more than revenues.

Vallez said the shortfall in North Berwyn was caused by state grants not being awarded, and Marengo was in much worse financial condition before he got there.

"They were pretty much close to being dissolved," he said.

In 2016, Marengo Park District revenues slightly outpaced expenses, something Vallez attributed to debt refinancing that he pursued and the elimination of 75 percent of the district's jobs. Audits for 2016 for the other two districts aren't available yet, according to Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza's website. None of the districts Vallez oversees maintain annual financial records online.

Commissioners in other districts Vallez oversees are pleased with his work, but they're concerned about the effect his new Bensenville post might have on his availability.

"I'm surprised that there's room on his schedule because I know he is a very busy guy," said Ann Mackin, a North Berwyn Park District commissioner. "I would rather he spend that time here, but we at North Berwyn don't seem to be suffering. He's one of these people that doesn't appreciate free time."

Bensenville would be the largest operation Vallez has overseen with almost 300 employees and nearly $9 million in operating costs in 2016. He oversees a combined 42 employees at his other three jobs, according to district audits. Vallez said he has no plans to seek the Bensenville post permanently.

The Bensenville Park District has been struggling financially for years. Under Robbins' leadership, the district has lost nearly $1.3 million over the past three years, according to district records. Robbins -- who was fired on his birthday -- will be paid the remainder of his roughly $115,000 annual contract that expires Jan. 31, Johnson said.

Got a tip?

Contact Jake at jgriffin@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4602.

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