Pension fund launches investigation into Bensenville park director
The Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund has launched an investigation into whether newly hired Bensenville Park District interim Executive Director Joe Vallez qualifies for pension benefits at his three other suburban park district posts.
IMRF officials said they sent letters to Vallez Thursday asking for documents proving he worked at least 1,000 hours a year since December 2014 for each of the North Berwyn, Marengo and Justice park districts, where he holds leadership positions -- 3,000 hours a year total. Vallez's retirement benefits came to light as part of a Daily Herald investigation into his hiring by Bensenville earlier this week.
"You got our attention," IMRF Executive Director Louis Kosiba said. "Your article raised an important question whether he satisfied the requirements. At first blush, working for three different park districts and now a fourth, it seems to us that there is an issue whether he is satisfying the hourly standard."
Vallez, 56, would have to work a minimum of 58 hours a week each year in order to qualify for retirement benefits from all three agencies. His $6,000-a-month contract with Bensenville parks was approved Wednesday and does not include any public pension benefits.
Kosiba said IMRF is seeking records back to December 2014 because that's when taxpayers and Vallez began contributing to his eventual pension through the Justice Park District.
"That's kind of a crucial date because that's the first time we have any indication he might be overextended," Kosiba said. "Justice was not part of IMRF before then. What should have happened was all the individuals working there should have been enrolled, but the only one enrolled was Vallez."
If Vallez can't provide records showing he worked the minimum amount to qualify for pension benefits, "we'll kick him out," Kosiba said. "It's also entirely possible the documentation might show he worked enough with one or two to participate."
That would allow him to keep some benefits.
Vallez, who did not return calls seeking comment about the investigation, defended his employment history last week in a phone interview. He has worked nearly 30 years in public park district administration.
"I love to have people ask me how I do what I do because duplication is a form of flattery and I am humbled by that," he said. "When people stop asking you for help, there might be something wrong."
Kosiba said there were many types of records Vallez could provide to prove his time commitments at the three park districts, such as minutes from meetings, calendars, emails and phone records. If it is determined he does not qualify, he will have his contributions refunded to the date that he became ineligible.
If he is kicked out, Vallez can appeal to the IMRF board, Kosiba said.