For the ninth time in the last three years, the Forest Park Village Council adopted a resolution to authorize waiving a hiring freeze to fill a position vacated by an employee covered by the Illinois Metropolitan Retirement Fund (IMRF). In this latest case, the council unanimously approved the resolution to hire a full-time parking enforcement officer.
At the April 27 meeting, Commissioner Chris Harris asked for details on the now vacant position. According to Chief Jim Ryan, the employee resigned. Ryan added, “He is pursuing a career in law enforcement. He submitted a resignation letter saying he wanted to pursue that full time. He is in the process of testing at numerous other police departments.”
Long established in Illinois law, the IMRF was created to “administer a retirement, death, and disability benefit plan for employees of local governments in Illinois,” according to its website. Many units of government are eligible for participation, including cities, villages, townships and park districts. However, once an employer joins the IMRF, it may not opt out. Forest Park is a member of IMRF.
IMRF only covers civilian employees. The village’s police and fire departments are instead covered by the Downstate Police & Downstate Fire Pension Funds.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian told the Review that Forest Park’s “IMRF hiring freeze was put into place many years ago. Very simply, anytime the village needs to hire any person who will participate in the IMRF pension plan, the village council must waive the freeze.”
According to village records, the council passed Resolution 46-06 on Sept. 11, 2006, which “directed that no position of employment which is covered by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund be filled unless said Resolution was rescinded or otherwise repealed by action of the corporate authorities of the Village of Forest Park.”
As reported by the Review in 2006, Mayor Anthony Calderone proposed the freeze as a cost-saving measure in response to a program incentivizing early retirement for village employees. When reached by email, Calderone told the Review, “Early retirement incentives are designed to either not fill the position vacated by the retiree or the hired replacement earns a salary less than what the retiree earned.
“This ‘freeze’ was put into place because at the time we offered the early retirement, then-Commissioner [Terry] Steinbach hired a person to fill the vacancy by the retiree and the new hire made the same hourly wage as the retiree, which was counter to the way in which the incentive is designed.”
Soon after adoption of the freeze, Chief Ryan petitioned the village council to approve a waiver in order to fill a vacant police dispatcher position. At the time, Steinbach voiced concern that the “resolution was inconsistent and allowed for a loophole,” but the waiver was approved.
When asked by the Review about the freeze, Gillian explained, “It gives the council the ability to ask questions about the need for the new hire. Most, if not all times, [the freeze] is waived, but it does give the Council the ability to ask the question, ‘Is the position being filled required?’ We feel all positions at the village are vital, but I feel it is a reasonable practice to let the council review the process.”
Since 2012, the council has approved resolutions in order to hire various positions within the village. The roles include multiple Community Center jobs, an administration/accounts payable clerk, a civilian information management records clerk, a custodian and a few parking enforcement officers.
Still, according to Calderone, several positions, including an assistant public works director and an assistant at the community center have been eliminated since 2006. Calderone referred to this process as “attrition.”
“No single person can make a direct hire,” he said. “The only way to fill a position, essentially it has to come before the entire council.”
Echoing Calderone, Gillian stated that the freeze allows the council to assess the importance of each position before authorizing a waiver. However, a Review analysis revealed the village commissioners rarely exercised that prerogative. Of the nine instances since 2012, a council member has initiated discussion during council meetings prior to adoption only twice.