Harvey alderman says city's insolvency, corruption greater issue than pension crisis
Harvey 3rd Ward Alderman Christopher Clark, a possible mayoral hopeful, says he can't confirm a recent story about city fire pensioners receiving $25 million in pensions after paying little or nothing into the fund, but he said the city's pension woes are a symptom of a greater disease.
"I try not to speak on things that I'm not aware of," Clark said during a South Cook News telephone interview. "Our issue here in Harvey, specifically – and that's really all that I can speak on – is not really about the pensions. We didn't get to this pension crisis because a person didn't pay for a portion of their pension. We got to this pension crisis because the money has been mismanaged over the years. And it has been rampant and it has been publicized."
The city of Harvey's long-term insolvency and corruption is no secret, Clark said. "Most, if not all, are aware of that," he said.
"People in the state and the county and even in the federal government are aware of rampant mismanagement in the city of Harvey," Clark said. "So, while pensions are a concern – they're an extreme concern because they can make or break a community – that does not seem to be our major issue."
Clark has represented Harvey's 3rd Ward since his election to the seat in 2015, the same year he and two other aldermen, Joseph Whittington and Shirley Drewenski, sued longtime Mayor Eric J. Kellogg and City Clerk Nancy Clark over corruption allegations. The city of Harvey's website still lists Clark's predecessor, Daryl Crudup, as alderman of the 3rd ward.
Clark has not been quiet about Harvey mismanagement. Last year, Clark objected to the city of Harvey's payment of a $19,000 judgment against Kellogg's sister, and Clark's efforts, along with those of Aldermen Whittington and Drewenski, to seek state and federal intervention have been praised by the Chicago Tribune.
Clark is hoping to upset Kellogg's hopes for a fifth term in office by running against him for mayor in November's general election.
Earlier this month, Harvey announced about 30 layoffs in Harvey's police and fire departments to help find the more than $1 million due in Harvey's police pension fund.
Earlier this week, the South Cook News reported that Harvey taxpayers have paid out almost $25 million into 42 retired firefighters' pension benefits while the retirees have contributed about $1.14 million to the retirement fund. More than half of those retirees contributed nothing to their pension fund, according to the South Cook News story.
"How much money did you say it was, $25 million?" Clark asked the South Cook News interviewer. "Well, if you don't mind me giving you a little perspective, $24 million in unpaid water bills to the city of Chicago had nothing to do with the pensions because the city (of Harvey) was still not paying into the pension fund. It's not like they sent that money to Chicago and didn't send it to the pension fund. $14 million in bonds for a hotel that was supposed to be renovated but was never renovated and the money disappeared had nothing to do with the pension fund. $880,000 in ComEd had nothing to do with the pension fund. And specifically as you probably – or may not – know $12,000 for spa services, that we know of, $5,000 to a college fund, $1,500 to Kay Jewelers, paid with personal credit cards, and Kohl's bills, had nothing to do with the pension fund."
All of that missing cash adds up, Clark said. "There would have been enough money to actually have paid the pension funds and still been solvent," he said.
"So that's our issue. Our issue is not the pension fund, our issue is the fact that we don't have the money because of rampant mismanagement. But I do agree with you, though. I don't know if you have the perspective or not but I will say that everyone should contribute to their pensions. I contribute to mine and everyone else should contribute to theirs."
Clark said he isn't aware of the pension issue as described in the South Cook News story because of another longstanding issue in Harvey. "We lack transparency here in the city of Harvey," he said. "So, it will be difficult for me to be able to ascertain exactly what was paid and what wasn't. I haven't had a chance to look at it, so I don't know if your numbers are true or not and, so, I really can't comment on that."
Clark promised to look into the pension fund issue and said pension reform is important. "We need to get pension reform under control," he said. "It's just that, specific to Harvey, we also need to get mismanagement of funds under control. Most places don't have a mayor who is banned for life for from engaging in municipal bonds because of irresponsible behavior. We do."
Organizations in this Story
Chicago Tribune • Christopher J Clark Llc • City of Chicago • City of Chicago Department of Water Management • City of Harvey • Exelon Corp • Harvey City Mayor's Office • Kay Jewelers • Kohl's Department Stores • The Office of Harvey Mayor Eric J. Kellogg