Is Joliet City Manager really worth $415,000?


In the heartland, where the cost of living is assumed to be more reasonable than San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York, you might expect public sector compensation to be more reasonable, as well. But not in Joliet, IL. In 2008, they hired Thomas A. Thanas as the new City Manager, at a starting base salary of $189,000. For 2011, the base salary increased to $196,500. Joliet has a population of 147,433, but to manage that mid-sized city, Thanas now gets a higher base salary than any governor in all 50 states. In addition to his salary, $7,500 of taxpayer money goes into a deferred compensation retirement plan. This is on top of what taxpayers pay into his pension plan: $28,800 into the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) pension. Bulking up the total, Joliet taxpayers also pay for $6,000 in an estimated annual car allowance; an estimated $4,000 in continuing education, fees and costs to maintain the Manager’s personal law license; and an estimated annual $17,500 in  premium payments for life, health, and dental insurances.

I wish that were the end of the list, but there’s more. When the City Manager was hired in 2008, he negotiated a vacation bank and a sick bank. (Not to be confused with Bank of America, or any other bank bailed out by our tax dollars.) His vacation bank of 4 weeks is valued at $15,100 and his sick hours bank of 1,500 hours is valued at over $141,300. Let’s push in for a closeup of that line item. That’s not a few days for the sniffles. That’s a total of 37.5 40 hour weeks to be sick. So by 2011, the taxpayer liability associated with these two “banks” totaled approximately $156,400.

In case any outraged Joliet taxpayers storm City Hall with pitchforks and torches, Thanas can fall back on a very generous severance clause. If terminated for any reason except felony conviction or official misconduct or abandonment of office, taxpayers owe this guy a lump sum payment equal to one full year of base salary and “any other benefits paid by the city’s fringe benefit ordinance”. So, in case the city of Joliet lets him go for anything but committing a felony or calling in sick for 38 straight weeks, his lump sum severance is $375,900.

Could there possibly be more? Unfortunately, yes. Even with all this in his contract, the city manager claimed that he was owed an additional 9.5 years of extra retirement credits. This would have added 9.5 credit years and $760,000 of credit “earnings” to the calculation of the City Manager’s future pension. Inexplicably, the City of Joliet agreed to back the manager’s claim.  If wiser heads had not prevailed, Joliet taxpayers would have been responsible for this new massive lifetime pension liability. Fortunately, the application for this unearned pension was rejected by Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund administrators. Still not satisfied, Thanas appealed it to the full IMRF Board of Trustees, who then issued a final rejection. It’s too bad they couldn’t also have issued the Joliet City Council a conscience.

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