CHICAGO (CBS) — Parting will no longer be quite so sweet for public officials fired in Illinois.
A new law, effective next year, limits the scope of high-cost, sweetheart severance deals paid by taxpayers. But does it go far enough?
When former College of DuPage president Robert Breuder was forced out in 2015, after revelations about lavish entertainment misspending, Breuder left with almost $770,000 in severance.
When university president Doug Baker retired from Northern Illinois in 2017, after investigations uncovered contracts dished out to his personal friends, Baker walked away with $617,000. And when Chicago State president Thomas Calhoun Jr. was mysteriously squeezed out in 2016, he was was showered with $605,000 after just nine months on the job.
“People leaving under clouds of various types, either inability to do their jobs or having ethical issues and then getting these large payments, that’s outrageous,” said David Greising of the Better Government Association.
And, it’s now history.
A new Illinois law ends so-called golden parachutes, big severance payouts for public employees. Illinois State Senator Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park) sponsored the law.
“Every administrative contract in the state, now the most you can get is a 20-week severance package,” Cullerton said.
Public boards often claimed they paid up to avoid lawsuits, like the $652,000 severance paid to former Metra chairman Alex Clifford back in 2013.
“Rather than go through the fight and deal with trying to terminate somebody,” said Cullerton. “They’d rather just pay ’em off and push them out the door.”
But David Greising of the BGA, which pushed for the new law, said the 20-week severance limit eliminates that excuse.
“It sends a signal to wrongdoers that if they’re forced out, there’s not going to be a big payday awaiting them. It gets a lot done,” Greising said.
No other Midwest state has measures to cap public severance deals. However the new law only applies to future contracts. So there could be more fat severance payouts in the future, with contracts that are already on the books.