When Illinois public officials are dismissed for misconduct, they sometimes are
awarded large severance packages – which are paid for by taxpayers. A new proposal approved by the Senate would stop the practice.
Under the plan, golden parachutes, as these payouts are called, would be eliminated in cases where someone is fired under circumstances of misconduct. These range from criminal assault, abuse or neglect in the workplace. When dismissal is not for misconduct, packages would be capped at five months. If the plan becomes law, any future public employee contract would follow this limit.
The Better Government Association, a watchdog group based in Chicago, has investigated the issue and last year released a report. According to Madeleine Doubek, the group’s policy and civic engagement director, their investigation found nine instances where a public employee in the state was let go and paid a six-figure severance, costing taxpayers more than $5 million. She said these were awarded to executives at all levels of government – from universities to community colleges, to transit agencies.
“When you leave government service -- when you’re asked to leave government service -- it shouldn’t be like hitting a lottery jackpot,” she said.
During a Senate floor vote, state Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said he stood behind what the proposal would do. “I was very glad to hear that we’re applying this to all levels of government so that we don’t have this kind of situation, as it happens especially at some universities and so forth," he said, "and hopefully never happen again.”
The Senate approved the measure 52-0.
The measure's sponsor, Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, said the legislation mirrors what several other states already do to restrict severance packages. States like Minnesota, California and Florida have similar severance restrictions for their public employees.
Cullerton said state universities and community colleges should have tougher regulations, especially when some administrators under investigation or who are found guilty of mismanagement have been bought off. “And this will start addressing the problem that has been going on throughout the state,” he said.
Most recently, the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees awarded a $600,000 severance package to former President Doug Baker, who found himself in a patronage scandal. Cullerton said high-profile cases like these encouraged him to spearhead the legislation. But, he said, other public officials, such as mayors, also have large severance packages written into their contracts, and he would like to see the practice curbed there as well.
The measure now heads to the House for further consideration.