Tri-State Fire Protection District Pension Shenanigans

Tri-State Fire Protection District Pension Shenanigans

The taxpayers paying into the Tri-State Fire Protection District sure have been taken for one hell of an expensive ride by their elected Board of Trustees. That board apparently has no regard for them or the public trust. Late salary boosts for a chief wasn’t just unleashed once – but twice. In addition to that, and at the same time that that was happening the assistant fire chief was also given a huge pay raise to boost his outgoing salary before resigning. This apparently was done to help clear the way for a battalion chief’s rise in the ranks. But that rise wouldn’t be complete until yet another fire chief had to be paid off with a juicy late career pay raise as well as a generous severance package.

And that clearing of the way, for current Tri-State Protection District Fire Chief Michelle Gibson was done with the blessing of a Tri-State Fire Protection District Board Trustee who just happened to be her Civil Union Partner. Naturally when the press wanted to talk with Gibson, she declined saying “I cannot burden this district . . . with your questions.”

Hmm me thinks that this is what one should call the Tri-State Protection District Pension Shenanigans saga. And the real tragedy of those shenanigans is that it will eventually cost every Illinois Taxpayer who are already stuck picking up the enormous costs associated with the Illinois Public Retirement Systems.

And I have to tell you folks this is exactly the sort of blatant behavior by elected officials that should land someone behind bars.

The Tri-State Fire Protection District currently serves parts of Darien, Burr Ridge, Willowbrook and unincorporated DuPage County. Now I suppose the Tri-State Fire Protection District Board of Trustees must believe that there is more than enough money to go around by residents of this mostly affluent area for their own personal agendas. Especially Board Trustee Jill Strenzel who knowingly voted on an issue involving her Civil Union Partner.

But I have to wonder what part of conflict of interest doesn’t she understand? I mean at the very least any action involving someone you have a relationship with requires them to recuse themselves immediately. Period! End of Discussion!

So where does the Illinois State’s Attorney Lisa Madigan stand on stuff like this? Well who the hell knows! Why? Because this travesty of public trust occurred between 2004 and 2008 and we have no idea if she is even aware of it. Still, I have to question who oversees this nightmare of pensions anyhow?

You know, I knew someone who worked at one of the Public Pension Funds as an auditor and was told it was driving that person crazy because “the Boss would decide if there were any reason to question higher pension payouts when flagged by them and until they heard back to just shut up about it.” And I guess that is part of the reason people can double and triple dip the system as well as taking those late career boosts to spike their ultimate pension payments.

And to show you just how municipal and state employees avail themselves of a rigged pension system that has no clear oversight all one has to do is see how this wacky story unfolded. In 2004 the former Tri-State Fire Protection District Fire Chief James Eggert received two late career raises of $7,830 and $11,000 to boost his “pension eligible” final salary to $124,079. Eggert also received a 10,000 Severance Payment that didn’t count towards his pension. But while that was happening the Tri-State Fire Protection District Board of Trustees also agreed to a separation agreement with the former Assistant Fire Chief James Krohse which gave him a $10,000 late career pay raise as well.

The Tri-State Fire Protection District Board of Trustees then voted to elevate former Deputy Chief Alan Hagy to Chief and former Battalion Chief Michelle Gibson to be the Deputy Chief. And this is where it gets real interesting because former Fire Chief Alan Hagy stayed with the Darien based fire protection district until 2008 and also received 2 late career pay boosts in the final three months of employment totaling $17,000. Those raises meant that his pension eligible final salary would be $132,000 versus a previous $$115,000 (or $121,000). Now that’s a hell of a big difference folks especially if he lives long enough to collect the maximum. Of course it just didn’t end with juicing Hagy’s final salary as he was also given a $60,000 Severance Payment to boot.

Pretty Sweet Deal Ain’t It?

But who would become the next Fire Chief? Well it is none other than Michelle Gibson who just happened to be Tri-State Fire Protection District Board Trustee Jill Strenzel’s Civil Union Partner. Wow what a freakin’ coincidence huh? Well not so much as the Chicago Sun-Times article used as the source for this post indicated “Strenzel was on the board when it approved the late-career raises for Eggert, Krohse and Hagy and voted to promote her partner to chief, according to agency records and interviews.”

No wonder Tri-State Fire Chief Michelle Gibson (who is bagging down a cool pension eligible $137,887 a year plus bonuses thus far) declined to comment for that article saying, “I cannot burden this district . . . with your questions.”

Yeah no shit lady! I don’t think anyone would want to talk about such an blatant abuse of the public trust would they? But hey, I suppose civil partner unions qualify for the same spousal privileges as married people get in this state so you probably won’t have worry about testifying.

But I do know one thing taxpayers of the district can do. The next time a certain name pops on their local election ballot, they should send a very strong message by evicting that person, or anyone else, who participated in this board of trustees sham. This sort of political gamesmanship should not ever be tolerated by the taxpayers who must foot the bill. Now there have been audits related to the actions of this board and you can read about them in the source article – but this will still cost taxpayers more than it ever should have because there was too little that could be done at this time.

So it is now up to the people of that district to do the right thing.

Hopefully they will get rid of them first chance they get!


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