Joliet city manager collects nearly $100K in severance pay after less than a year on the job

Joliet city manager collects nearly $100K in severance pay after less than a year on the job

Joliet City Council members awarded their outgoing city manager a generous severance package after less than a year on the job. The ex-official will also be allowed to seek unemployment, even though some council members said he wanted to leave.

Joliet’s outgoing city manager will take home nearly $100,000 in severance pay following a City Council meeting on Oct. 16, despite serving in that role for less than a year.

Council members voted 6-2 to approve City Manager David Hales’ separation agreement, which over five months will include $89,584 in compensation and $5,375 in unused vacation time, as well as continued health care coverage through January. All told, Hales’ severance package will cost taxpayers $95,000, according to the Herald-News. Hales began working for the city in November.

Large severance pay is hardly uncommon for public officials in Illinois and recently spurred a new state law. What’s unusual about Hales’ separation agreement is a provision guaranteeing the city “will not protest an unemployment benefits” claim made by Hales, leaving room for other potential payments.

Hales’ severance payout is also unique for the circumstances under which he vacated his position. Statements from council members indicated Hales left the city on his own volition, according to the Herald-News. That raises the question as to why the former city manager received a severance package at all – let alone access to unemployment benefits.

Council members Terry Morris and Michael Turk both suggested Hales exited the position voluntarily, although reasons for his departure were unclear.

The council members also noted the poor timing of Hales’ departure. The city recently began working on a budget for the coming fiscal year, according to the Herald-News. The process typically demands critical involvement from the city manager.

Hales’ separation agreement comes just ahead of a new state law set to take effect Jan. 1 that limits the dollar amount and attaches conditions to severance packages for public officials.

In August, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law the Government Severance Pay Act, barring government employers from issuing extravagant severance payouts, also known as “golden parachutes.” The act introduced by state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, caps severance payouts at the equivalent of 20 weeks of employee compensation and revokes severance packages altogether for employees terminated due to misconduct.

Hales’ severance package appears to have been influenced by the new law, with the payout roughly limited to the new law’s 20-week maximum. Had Hales been terminated by the city, the contract called for six months of severance pay, meaning the negotiated agreement only saved the city about a month of pay.

That an outgoing city worker can collect such an extravagant severance package despite serving such a brief tenure – and possibly quitting voluntarily – indicates inadequate oversight of public funds. With the Government Severance Pay Act on the horizon, local leaders would be well advised to begin adjusting municipal financial practices to the benefit of taxpayers – rather than rewarding each other at taxpayers’ expense.

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