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Added May 01 2012

When pension benefits for aldermen were boosted in 1991, their salary was $40,000 a year. Since then, it has grown to as much as $115,000 — rising at nearly double the rate of inflation.

That six-figure salary, and the large pension that goes with it, isn't even for full-time work. By law, the job of a Chicago alderman is part time.

Under the plan, aldermen and other elected city officials became eligible to receive up to 80 percent of the salary they earned during their last month of work. All other employees in the municipal pension plan...receive 70 percent of their average monthly salary over the previous four years.

Aldermen can also reach the maximum benefit with just 20 years of service, compared with nearly 30 years for everyone else...

Council members argue that they deserve to earn credit more quickly because they face re-election every four years...Data from the pension fund show that aldermen...retired with an average of 25 years of service, roughly the same as the average retiree in the municipal pension plan.‎

"It's not a part-time job, not if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., 27th. "The definition of the job is part time. But I work 16-hour days twice a week. I work on Saturdays. You can't go to church without people asking you for things."

But those duties are not mandatory, and there are other avenues to city services, such as the 311 phone line.

According to state law, the aldermen's only responsibility is to draft and approve legislation.

And Chicago's City Council, though among the largest and most expensive in the nation, rarely produces ordinances of substance...The council takes roughly 7,000 votes a year on ordinances. Yet, since mid-2006, fewer than 100 votes were not unanimous, according to...the city clerk's office.,0,1833971.story

  • @JG - Yes, I realized from the onset that this is about city council as a whole. I was comparing it to your words and holding you accountable for them; that's all. ;-)

    I think all of us in this thread agree that this was a reprehensible move on the part of the aldermen who voted on this in 1991, and of course, the former mayor. I was always a little mystified as to why city council voted with mayor almost always, on anything. Now I know why! He gave them a future so bright they were blinded to honest votes. Let's hope the newest batch has the integrity to make a positive change to this messy pension 'solution'. It certainly isn't fair the way it stands. Now that the cat is out of the bag and before the taxpaying public, it'll be interesting to see what happens.

  • TLo

    FWIW, I didn't take the original message to mean any one alderman was being singled out. The article said "By law, the job of a Chicago alderman is part time." And 15 aldermen have other jobs. And for that they earn an 80% pension for life.

    If what Bill the Engineer says is true (I have no reason not to believe it is), Cullerton should be the new standard to which all aldermen should be held: Working the job full-time and, since he already gets ONE pension, no work toward collecting a second one :).

  • Bill the Engineer /ChicagoNWside/

    Well the mayor we have now seems to think we shouldn't be distracted by the aldermanic pensions. Figures....,0,5969511.story

    I kind of like the idea that Lunker posted above. A tiered system with 50% salary as the top level. And I'll add that this should apply to all current council members, as well as those already retired from office.

  • Amelia L. Kabat A True Conservative and a Woman of Integrity

    I would love to see the city reduce the Aldermen from 50 to 25. However, I don't want to see Aldermen such as my current one out of office. He is doing a great job and we need more people like him representing the people.

  • Montrose Monster Near OLV

    @Bill: Whenever it's not the story Rahm wants in the press, it's noise or a distraction.

    Reporter: Mr. Mayor, does it seem right that aldermen get sweet pensions while you are trying to end the pension plans of city workers -- workers who work full time for their whole lives, pay in week after week, and have NO social security benefits?

    Rahm: Stop pointing out that I'm a hypocrite and I have no plan to accomplish any of my crazy sound byte plans. You're distracting me from this awesome press conference where we celebrate puppies and demonize public servants. You're making it hard for me to concentrate on how I'm going to funnel more of your tax dollars to my rich buddies.

  • Tom K. Lifelong resident of Portage Park.

    @John Garrido - In response to this statement: "This is NOT a thread about one alderman. It's about a system that is not fair to the taxpayers; regardless of how small a portion of the overall budget it impacts."

    I just don't get why it really matters. I said above that it's slanted, and it should be corrected, but there has to be a million other things that are "unfair," that could be corrected which would save the City substantially more money. This is a grain of sand off the beach. Come up with something that fills a bucket with sand, and that will merit some serious discussion to solve the City's pension liabilities.

  • pattymelt is mostly in charge

    1. Despite all the figuring that went into determining that my share of this whole mess is .46 cents, this makes me feel like an indentured servant.

    2. This whole mess kind of seems like kids being put in charge of how much candy they will get from a candy store.

    3. This whole mess was approved by the state legislature. I volunteered for a candidate for state rep in the recent primary election and was very disheartened by the voter turnout. I cannot understand the failure of many to vote in local elections, they are all-important where some issues are concerned and I don't think an apathetic electorate can complain effectively when they couldn't even put down the Tivo thingy to go vote.

  • Tom K. Lifelong resident of Portage Park.


    1) Saying you feel like an indentured servitude is quite harsh to those who actually had to go through indentured servitude, and slavery for that matter.

    2) If you still want to claim you feel like an indentured servant, then this should make you rest easy: under the Illinois minimum wage, you make 0.46 cents in 3.4 minutes.

  • Bill the Engineer /ChicagoNWside/

    Tom K....this may in fact be a grain of sand on the beach, but it points to a larger problem of "obscure state law" that allows elected officials to game the system in which they set the rules.

    It should come as no surprise that the man behind the city's financial mess is making out like a bandit in retirement.,0,7989777,full.story

    It's my opinion that public employee pension reform must begin with completely overhauling the system as it applies to those supposedly elected to serve us. Including those that are presently retired.

  • John Garrido Gladstone Park resident, Attorney, Police Officer

    @Tom, you're correct that there are lots of other things that may be able to save more money. Feel free to start a thread and post any one of or all of those ideas; fill the bucket with sand my friend.

    The fact remains, this should be any easy fix. If there is enough public outcry and pressure at the polls, maybe it will be fixed. We should not discount it or dismiss it simply because you say it adds up to .46 per resident (of course every chicago resident is not part of the contribution equation).

    Break it down any way you want Tom, fixing it would be a step in the right direction. If you don't "get why it really matters" then maybe that is part of the problem.

    So you probably approve of speed cameras because it only affects a small portion of the overall population. Or maybe it's ok if contracts are handed out to shell organizations because the amount of money lost is nothing compared to the overall budget.

    So we shouldn't waste our time discussing the problem because you, Tom K., thinks it doesn't really matter?

    Nobody thinks a post on everyblock is going to change anything, but it is one of many venues that can help engage the voters to wake up and make some changes.

  • JJ

    Just curious about the Cfd and Cpd free health care offer for retirement, that's about $850 a month paid for by the citizens. That's a pretty sweet perk to have that only police and fire get.

  • John Garrido Gladstone Park resident, Attorney, Police Officer

    Great follow-up article posted by Bill above:,0,7989777,full.story

    "In 1995, when Daley wanted to fund his school reform package, his administration pushed legislation that allowed it to divert $1.5 billion from the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund over a 15-year period..."When these plans are misused, there is a price that will be paid by taxpayers and other pension plan participants," wrote Keith Brainard, research director at the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, in an email after hearing of Daley's deal. "But there's another cost, possibly far greater than the financial cost. That cost is the erosion of public support for decent retirement benefits for employees of the state and local government."

  • The salaries for all employs at the City of Chicago are at

    There are over 800 Lieutenants in the Police and Fire and most are over $100,000 to 120,000. I'm not sure how many days they work a week, they also get healthcare after retirement.
    Everyones pensions need to be looked at.
    How about the mayor? Doesn't he get free healthcare for life as a former Congressman? Were paying for that and a lot of other congressional perks, but our mayor doesn't tell anyone those perks he enjoyed.

  • Being a Lieutenant in the CPD is a pretty high power job. Its not pushing carts at Walmart. I would equate it to Sr. Management in most corporations. $100 - 120K seems perfectly fair for these guys dealing with the scum they deal with everyday. You want a decent caliber of people for these jobs. If it paid $50K you'd get the equivalent of TSA workers running the CPD.

    Add to that many Lieutenants have Masters/Advanced degrees

    Fire Dept on the other hand needs an overhaul.

  • kenji Find us here -->

    @Lunker said: you'd get the equivalent of TSA workers running the CPD.

    Nice troll!

  • Tom K. Lifelong resident of Portage Park.

    @Bill the Engineer

    Under current law, you can't easily change the pensions of those already retired. That's why these two articles are nonsense, and are only meant to inflame the public. The "obscure state law" that prohibits this change is found in Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois State Constitution. Also, the only way to amend this part of the Constitution is through the General Assembly. It cannot be changed through a referendum. I'm not saying it can't be done, but first you have to get a state rep or state senator to sponsor the constitutional amendment, convince leadership to call it in committee and and on the floor, hire a lobbyist (or two or three) to convince three-fifths of the other members of the General Assembly to vote "yes" on it, and then launch a statewide campaign so that people vote on it. All in all, a very time consuming and expensive ordeal to save a minimal amount of the taxpayers' money.

    And I, for one, am happy that Article XIII, Section 5 is in the Constitution. If they could decrease their own pensions, what's to stop them from decreasing all public employees' pensions? Absolutely nothing.

    We'll have to agree to disagree on this. Public pension reform begins with finding a solution that will actually fund the accounts with the appropriate percentage of money needed to pay the pensions in full and on time; not bashing former elected officials who collect pensions that affect the City's budget in such a minimal way, that it's not financially worth the time and effort to fix. I agree that fixing it for the future would be a good idea, but fixing it in the past is just not worth it.

  • Stephanie Jeff Park native, New Portage Park homeowner!

    @Tom K. While I understand your point I don't see the "minimal amount" as trifle as you do. The fact is tax payers are squeezed for minimal amounts here and there and here and there and eventually they all add up to a lot of our money paying for someone else to enjoy benefits we ourselves will never see.
    As long as we continue to think its not worth the time and money to address an issue the pattern will continue.

  • pattymelt is mostly in charge

    @Tom K: "That's why these two articles are nonsense, and are only meant to inflame the public."

    The public needs to be inflamed!

  • Tom K. Lifelong resident of Portage Park.


    Like I said, the law should be change for the future going forward. Changing it for those benefits already earned and/or vested is an expensive, time consuming process, and sets a precedent for eroding the pensions of other public employees.


    The public needs to be informed, not inflamed. These articles fail to mention that the pension benefits already earned cannot be diminished or impaired. Basically, there's almost nothing you can do about those pensions. If nothing can be done, then that's called inflaming the public. Inflaming the public does nothing but create more distrust among everyone. It offers no solutions. It offers no remedy. All it does is make people mad.

  • Tom K. Lifelong resident of Portage Park.

    @John Garrido

    Sorry, I missed your response from before.

    I don't think it matters when you use a cost/benefit analysis. That's all. Like I've said many times now, change it for future elected officials. It basically cannot be changed for past or current elected officials without substantial time, money, and effort; and not because I say so, but because the Illinois Constitution says so.

    With regard to speed cameras, shell organizations, etc., I don't agree with them. But, the Illinois Constitution doesn't prohibit them, nor require them. So, this City Council or a future City Council can repeal those ordinances if they want with a simple majority vote, which is a much simpler process than amending the state constitution.

  • @Lunker, I'm curious as to why you think the Fire Dept. needs an overhaul but Police Dept. doesn't???

  • pattymelt is mostly in charge

    @Tom K. "Inflaming the public does nothing but create more distrust among everyone." The article suggests that the process of getting this passed in 1991 was less than transparent so I think distrust is an appropriate reaction. Forgive me if I am wrong (and I am sure you will tell me I am) but this whole mess seems like a Ponzi scheme to me, only the taxpayers are the ones who were duped and will be paying the tab for decades to come.

    Also, I am sorry my use of the term "indentured servant" offended you. While I understand the term has a historical context, the definition has not changed. An indentured servant is someone who is working to pay off a debt and that is what I feel I am doing. Shall I call myself a serf instead? I am not sure why you brought up slavery since I did not mention it in my post.

  • Tom K. Lifelong resident of Portage Park.


    I'm sorry you feel like an indentured servant. I'm sorry you feel like this is a Ponzi scheme and that you were duped. I don't feel like that at all. The original poster simply asked what our thoughts were on the pensions of former elected officials. I then offered my thoughts, and then defended my thoughts when people questioned what I had to say. I won't bother you anymore, lest our little tiff here gets too far off topic and distracts from the real discussion.

  • John Garrido Gladstone Park resident, Attorney, Police Officer

    @Tom K. I got it now; you and I are looking at this article from two different perspectives.

    It appears as though you are focusing on the past and how it cannot be undone. I am looking at it as providing examples of what has happened in the past and WILL continue to happen in the future is something doesn't change in regard to political pensions.

    You're correct and I agree with you about the State Constitution. When I say this is an easy fix, I mean going forward. Politicians can voluntarily do whatever they want and if an article like this motivates people to call them out, then so be it.

  • John Garrido Gladstone Park resident, Attorney, Police Officer

    Now let's see if you guys can put your partisan blinders on for a second and take a look at this example of what politicians can do.

    For the record, I know nothing else about this politician except that he opted out of the State Pension fund.

    "Newly elected state Rep. Tom Morrison raised some eyebrows Tuesday during freshmen legislators’ orientation in Springfield when presented with paperwork to join the General Assembly’s lucrative pension system.

    That’s because he opted out a move officials can recall happening just once before...

    Morrison won’t have to contribute 11.5 percent of his $67,836 annual salary the way the other members of the General Assembly Retirement System do.

    But he will lose out on thousands of dollars even if he serves just two 2-year terms in office. After four years in office the amount of time it takes to become vested a current legislator becomes eligible to receive a pension of 12 percent of his salary, along with 3 percent increases if retiring after age 60.

    That pension payout spikes to 27 percent of salary after eight years of in office, 45 percent after 12 years of service and finally the maximum 85 percent after 20 years."

  • Bill the Engineer /ChicagoNWside/

    In some legal circles, there is doubt that the cited article of the state constitution prevents pension & benefit changes for present and retired public employees.

    The ideal situation would be for reform legislation that addresses it, and let the courts sort it out.

    That would be too much to ask though. Everyone that makes decisions on these matters, including judges, benefit from these policies and cannot be expected to legislate or rule against their personal financial interests.

    Coincidence that the spouse of one of the architects of the 1991 legislation, the City Council's Finance Committee's chairman, is an Illinois Spreme Court judge? Or that all of the "players" were successful in defeating a Constitutional Convention that would have addressed this issue just a few years ago? Nooooo....(there's that cynicism again.)

  • John Garrido Gladstone Park resident, Attorney, Police Officer

    @JeriZ, there are only 193 Chicago Police Lts and even less Fire Lts, I'm not sure where you got the 800 figure from.

  • TLo

    Despite what any constitution or ordinance may say, individuals such as this Rep. Morrison and our own local Alderman Cullerton can make personal decisions that reflect their beliefs. Kudos to them -- and I know there are others out there as well!

  • I'd like to hear what Tom Caravette has to say about this.

  • Bill the Engineer /ChicagoNWside/

    Outside of this forum, someone I respect pointed out that there is nothing "illegal" about any of this.

    True enough.

    That doesn't make it "not corrupt" ....,0,5834958.story

  • Bill the Engineer /ChicagoNWside/

    Normally (imo), this writer is just too full of himself to be taken seriously. But this time he gets it right.....,0,3890679.column

  • pattymelt is mostly in charge

    @Tom K.: Okay, I guess I got a little riled up, thanks for offering up the olive branch, I will take it. But I am surprised that none of the men on here stepped up to warn you that it's dangerous to tell a woman what she should or shouldn't be mad about:)

    @Bill the Engineer: Yes, all perfectly legal. I call this a sweetheart deal, or business as usual in Chicago. Remember the motto Royko came up with? "Ubi Est Mea --Where's mine?"

    Last year John Cullerton wanted to tax retirement income to provide tax relief, see:

    I am not talking about modest pensions or 401(k) income but can we tax these inflated pensions? Some comments about the above article suggested people would just move out of state to avoid paying the tax but is there a way to structure it so people could not flee the tax? Can you tax people who live in another state?

  • As far as elected pols go, that law and the pension concept are so 20th century. Give 'em matching funds into an IRA or 401k kind of thing. Police and fire and other wage and salaried employees are not part of the original question folks.

  • ...and as far as what to do about retired Aldermen and other electeds under the present pension law...leave 'em alone. That's was part of the public's (unaware?) deal and to change it for current (? or nearly retired?) is a bum deal.

    However, maybe the current pension deal gets capped for those still employed and future contributions go into a 401k or IRA type deal with some matching? After all, that shifts the retirement income risk from the employer to the employee. No reason why politicians should be insulated from the risks most workers face today. It would help them focus on what is becoming a genuine social problem.

  • Tom K. Lifelong resident of Portage Park.

    @John Garrido

    Agreed. We're looking at it from different perspectives. As for Rep. Morrison, he's to be commended. While this is a little off topic, I am a little perturbed that members of the GA can "opt-out" of paying into the pension system. I don't want to be in the pension system, but, as a public employee, I can't opt-out. Anyways, that's a different thread.

    @Bill the Engineer

    I'm curious what legal circles interpret that article of the constitution to allow pension benefits already earned to be decreased. I know the Tribune's position is that, while benefits already earned cannot be decreased, benefits not earned but scheduled to be earned in the future can be decreased. A legal analysis done by Eric Madiar (Sen. Pres. Cullerton's staff attorney) comes to a contrary result. The entire article (link below) is lengthy, but the relevant section for this discussion starts on page 71 (Section G). Various law firms have opined as well, and their articles are cited by Madiar in the article.

  • Bill the Engineer /ChicagoNWside/

    Tom K, yes, I had read Madair's report for the Senate president previously, and his arguements are persuasive. But so is Sidley & Austin's report for the Commercial Club of Chicago, which argues that Article XIII does not prevent changes to these pensions.

    And due to fact there is not concensus, it should be argued before the courts and settled.

    Report synopsis....

    Another alternative is for the state to declare bankruptcy....(for all intents & purposes it is....both fiscally & ethically), as this would allow reasonable restructuring of state obligations.

  • Yolinda 35 years in Chicago, 15 in Irving Park

    I think we should get rid of aldermanic system completely, for the most part they don't really represent their constituents in City Hall anyway and just vote along with the mayor. The services they control can go to departments and perhaps there could be facilitators or something to make sure the services go where they are needed. This might go a long way towards dismantling the machine as well.

  • kenji Find us here -->

    @yolinda, who did you vote for in the last Aldermanic race?

  • Gene 50 year resident of Jeff Park

    Any pensions received by politicians should be no more then the average of the people they claim to represent.My personal opinion of it is,after you are done with public service,you are like the rest of us,go out and get a job.You are not entitled to anything because the people put you in a position.They make great connections in the private sector and can score a job with no problems because of their connections to the city. And government workers shouldn't get a pension either. People in the private sector who don't belong to the government union,will not be getting a pension,while paying for the retirees of the union.

  • Yolinda 35 years in Chicago, 15 in Irving Park

    @kenji, I didn't vote for anyone: Mell was running unopposed.

  • Gene 50 year resident of Jeff Park

    No politician should make more than the average of his constituency

  • @Gene: That seems potentially lopsided, as well as unfounded. I could see an Animal Farm mentality arising out of that idea. Future aldermanic scenario:
    You're alderman of a ward in Lincoln Park so you make $2 million/year. Meanwhile your counterpart in Pullman makes $20,000/year...?
    I see that going over well with public servants, not to mention the taxpaying public. :-\

    I know, I know, you said "...shouldn't make more than the average...", so it can be interpreted in different ways. But we know city politicians. They'll reinvent what it means to them, and then everyone will be running for Gold Coast alderman. Ha ha.

  • Bill the Engineer /ChicagoNWside/

    Anatomy of the looting of the public employee pension plans by elected/connected officials......

    Saw that the House rammed though poorly thought out Gaming legislation again on Wednesday. Good to see the General Assembly has their priorities straight.......

  • Tom K. Lifelong resident of Portage Park.

    @ Bill

    The gambling bill is a revenue generator, and a job creator. The proponents say it will raise $300 million a year; the Governor's Office says $160 million a year ( Either way, it makes a good chunk of change for the state, and creates new, permanent jobs in the areas where the casinos are built. So, I don't think it can be said that the gaming bill is contrary to one of the General Assembly's top priorities of passing a balanced budget.

    As I said before (on another thread, I think), May 31 is the deadline for passing a budget. With the medicaid bill, gaming bill, and cigarette tax, all out of the House already, plus a pension bill sitting in committee, it looks like they will get it done by the 31st.

  • Inactive user

    I like gambling because it is a choice, unlike a tax which we all have to pay. If someone is dumb enought to gamble their rent, that is their decision to live with.

  • Am conflicted on the personal responsibility aspect. Probably very, very few actually gamble the rent. Suspect it is mostly small amounts which might cut down on choices among the non essentials. But as a percent of income, it is a non productive spending that falls most heavily on the poor. Who, some might say, have few outlets for the dreaming joy lottery winnings give. But the odds are so steep. And we are drifting off topic a little.

    I still like the idea of shifting political pensions to the same employee risk as most people now face, the gamble of 401(k) self directed investment. That should help keep the politicals alert to the still developing social problem that idea will bring us.

  • RogersParker Rogers Parker since 1991

    I found this thread while doing research for another EB thread. Just thought I'd cross link to keep the conversation lively. ;-) Cheers!

  • Gene 50 year resident of Jeff Park

    What @bill the engineer said. Someone mentioned that cops firemen and teachers are in risky jobs. So are the mail carriers in certain areas of the city,so are the construction workers i have worked with in certain areas where we have seen people get shot,have equipment shot up,not to mention the inherent dangers that OSHA says they face. As an old man,i find that government pensions are unconstitutional as the person who was in the union,will benefit heavily in their retirement , whereas the people in the private sector have to struggle to make ends meet. If Obama wants to make sure everyone gets their fair share,he should end government union pensions. Just a thought.

  • Well, Tom K, your .46 cents assumes every Chicago citizen is paying in, and that investment returns are getting 8%+, neither of which is close to being true. Yeah, I know, probably still not a huge sum of cash if strictly speaking about the alderman, although the article clearly states this is one example of a bigger picture.

    More importantly, kudos to the Trib for each and every one of these articles informing and inflaming. It's about time something lit a fire under citizens and various city councils who were caught sleeping. I hope these articles continue until each crook is caught, reforms are made where possible, and everyone has more knowledge about how to deal with this moving forward.

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