Former Vernon Hills village manager to receive $161K severance package

Former Vernon Hills village manager to receive $161K severance package

While details surrounding the ex-official’s separation with the village remain undisclosed to the public, trustees’ approval of his $161,000 severance package went unobstructed.

For many public officials in Illinois, getting hired is merely one way to earn six-figure compensation – the other way is getting fired.

With some frequency, Illinois governments award “golden parachutes” to public employees who’ve been relieved of their duties. And while it’s the taxpayers who subsidize these generous sendoffs, they’re often kept in the dark about the circumstances surrounding the severed contracts.

One of the latest municipal officials to inherit a lofty severance package is former Vernon Hills Village Manager John Kalmar. Although the village hasn’t disclosed what prompted the release of Kalmar, trustees voted unanimously April 4 to approve a separation agreement that will award the dismissed official a six-figure severance payout. One trustee was absent for the vote.

Kalmar, who had been hired as village manager in December 2013, signed the agreement April 3. The agreement offers a $92,785 lump sum, equivalent to six months’ base salary, supplemented by an assortment of benefits that lift the total payout to nearly $161,000.

Among other items, benefits in the severance agreement include nearly $24,000 that represent the value of just under 268 vacation and personal leave hours, as well as $33,100 in unused sick time. Both of those sums were paid toward Kalmar’s retirement health savings account. Kalmar will also receive roughly $8,000 in retirement contributions from the village, according to the contract and $2,880 for his vehicle allowance.

In addition to the contract’s monetary appropriations, other key items include non-disclosure provisions for both parties. A specific provision barring media contact is also included, prohibiting both parties from approaching or responding to the press and other third parties on the subject of the village’s separation with Kalmar.

With few details made public concerning Kalmar’s resignation, observers have been left to extrapolate from an unusual interaction involving Kalmar and Vernon Hills Mayor Roger Byrne.

On March 13, in what the Vernon Hills Review described as a “vague confrontation,” a terse disagreement reportedly erupted between the officials during a budget workshop over the costs of unspecified “lawyer contracts.” Byrne then stated he wanted to discuss the matter with Kalmar in private, according to the paper. And as early as March 16, retired police chief Mark Fleischhauer was listed as interim village manager on the village’s website.

It’s unclear whether misconduct played a role in this resignation, given the scarcity of information available. But it wouldn’t be without precedent. There’s hardly a shortage of cases in which terminated public officials, including those terminated for abusing taxpayers’ funds, leave furnished with a lavish severance payout – subsidized by taxpayers.

For this reason, state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, recently introduced Senate Bill 3604, which would impose a cap on public-worker severance pay, and further rescind such payouts altogether for corrupt officials.

Vernon Hills taxpayers have good reason to be frustrated by exorbitant public-employee severance payouts. The village is located in Lake County, home to some of the highest property taxes in the state.

Unfortunately, golden parachute severance packages are but one aspect of a broader pattern of excessive government employee compensation feeding Illinoisans’ property tax burden.

According to his December 2013 Vernon Hills employment contract, Kalmar earned an annual base salary of $155,000. However, the halved salary upon which Kalmar’s severance sum was based equals a full annual salary of more than $185,500.

As of May 2017, according to Vernon Hills compensation records, Kalmar’s final salary was more than $200,000, indicating that the official’s salary rose by nearly 30 percent over the course of his time in the role of village manager. That’s more than double the median household income in Vernon Hills, which was listed at $95,200 as of 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But Kalmar’s income was by no means unique. Excluding Kalmar, 63 of the village’s 132 employees earn more than $100,000 in total annual compensation, according to village records. It will be Vernon Hills taxpayers tasked with covering these employees’ future pension payouts, which will be calculated based on their late-career salaries.

Lake County residents fatigued from enduring one of the state’s heaviest tax burdens should support Cullerton’s proposal. The limitations on public-employee severance payouts included in SB 3604 would offer taxpayers a small but welcome measure of relief. But trimming inflated severance payouts should be seen as the first – not the only – step toward easing property tax pain.

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