Pekau: "Dodge projecting his lack of morals and values on me"
Monday’s vote to eliminate pensions for part-time elected officials in Orland Park intensified a simmering feud between reformist Mayor Keith Pekau and some old-time board members, most notably Trustee Jim Dodge.
During the pension debate, Dodge insisted that he supported their elimination, but said that the vote would amount to little more than a “statement” since it would do nothing to ease the public pension crisis in the state. He also said that approval of the four resolutions needed to eliminate the eight pensions, including those of six trustees, could be a back door way for an even larger pension grab for some in the future, especially if military time is included.
“It’s a big number we are talking about,” Dodge said. “If a future board voted to bring the pensions back, there are a couple of different pathways to a million-dollar pension figure.”
Pekau responded by saying that Dodge’s comments were aimed at him (Pekau is retired Air Force). While the pensions of the six trustees will now end on July 1, the mayor’s pension will end May 2021, the end of the current term. Pekau argued that the mayor’s pension should reflect the fact that the board voted to make the office full-time in October 2016. This past March, the board voted to again make the job part-time, but under state law that change can’t take effect during a mayor’s term.
Pekau also argued that Dodge’s point was moot since he opted out of the pension fund when he first took office.
“The IMRF [the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund] told me I cannot opt back in,” he said. “I wouldn’t even if I could. I’ve said many times that I’m opposed to these pensions.”
When asked whether he was targeting Pekau with his comments, Dodge replied in an email that “by virtue of the vote - which kept the office of the mayor eligible to qualify for the pension - the current mayor could in fact grab a pension, using the years of this term and prior military service credits. The lifetime value could be at least $660,000.”
“I’m not saying he will and never have said that,” he continued. “My point was the need for reform, and let’s do it properly in Orland Park. But it is true that he could, so the only way to prevent this is decertify the position.”
In a phone interview with South Cook News, Pekau repeated the the point that the mayor’s pension was moot since he is not part of the IMRF system.
“Dodge,” he said, “is projecting his lack of morals and values on me.”
Pekau’s reform efforts in the village have been bolstered by the election in April of three trustees running on a People Over Politics slate he endorsed: William Healy, Cynthia Nelson Katsenes and Michael Milani. They campaigned in part on promising not to accept pensions.
“Eliminating the pensions eliminates the incentive to become a career politician,” Milani, who introduced the resolutions, said during the meeting. “It’s the right thing to do and it’s in the best financial interests of the people of Orland Park.”
In Pekau’s campaign for mayor two years ago he called the 2016 board vote to make the mayor’s position full-time a “pension grab.”
With the move to full-time status, the mayor’s salary jumped from $40,000 to $150,000 a year, effective in the mayor’s next term. The salary change would have also boosted then Mayor Dan McLaughlin’s pension from $25,000 a year to more than $100,000. But McLaughlin lost in April 2017 to Pekau.
“People get in these part-time positions and then they figure out a way to boost their salaries over their last couple of years of work so they can fatten their pensions,” Pekau said. “Work part-time, then get appointed to the Tollway for the last couple of years, and you struck it rich.”
For an earlier story, Pekau told South Cook News that under his tenure the village has cut “three to four million in annual spending” and has eliminated $40 million in debt.