Government transparency and the move for a new public pension

Pension burden threatens jobs, economic growth

Government transparency is more than just a posted agenda, an open meeting and following the law. It’s an attitude that as an elected representative in a representative republic, you don’t govern out of personal feelings or ideology, but as a true representative. It’s founded on the principle that the people you represent have an absolute right to know what you’re doing and why, particularly on the big things.

It’s also why the Niles Public Library’s recent actions to implement a new public pension for employees abuse not just transparency, but logic and experience.

Take a look at the June and July regular board meeting agendas. No member of the public could know by viewing the agenda that the library board is moving to implement a new public pension. The agenda lists a change in bylaws, but makes no mention that the purpose is to implement a new public pension. It just talks about changing some paragraphs. The agenda serves to obscure, instead of reveal this major change.

That’s the opposite of transparency. Even with a local reporter in the room, nothing’s been mentioned in the local press. What about the public’s right to know?

Since its founding, the Niles Public Library hasn’t had a pension. In its place, we’ve funded a generous salary and benefits package including a 401(k)-like retirement program. Not having a public pension has spared local taxpayers the burden of paying a portion of employee salaries for life. These “ghost payroll” employees account for the current pension crisis the state is experiencing. How are they “ghost payrolls?”

When an employee with a public pension retires, the cost of some portion of their salary, up to 75 percent of their last year salary average, stays on the payroll as a pension cost. They’re not there anymore, but taxpayers continue to pay for them. In Illinois, that pension burden has grown so immense that it threatens jobs, economic growth and basic services because by law and the Illinois Constitution those pension costs must be paid, no matter what. Pensions come before fire and police protection, garbage disposal, and road maintenance, to name a few.

Why would the Niles library pile on to an already destructive situation?

Over its entire life, the Niles library has never needed a public pension. More than a decade ago when creating a public pension was first mentioned trustees asked for demonstrable proof that our current retirement plan wasn’t working. None could be found, despite 13 years of looking and asking. No retired employees came forward to complain about their retirement or impoverishment because of it.

Every time we looked, and we took years examining the policy, we found that it didn’t affect the quality of our hiring, the quality of our work product or the financial health of our retired employees.

Why transfer what’s been working so well over to an unelected bureaucracy whose sole purpose is to collect whatever taxes are needed to pay pensions that aren’t needed?

The move to implement a new public pension at the library is triply bad: it’s not necessary, you lose local control and it’s based on a radical ideology that is in direct conflict with reason and real life experience.

It’s ideologically driven government that is causing so much destruction in our modern society. We don’t elect representatives so they can go and do whatever they want. True representatives are supposed to do what we want. Now they cannot know each of our minds and hence must serve the general welfare, not their narrow personal political views. Doing that amounts to a petty tyranny.

If they were honest and felt good about their decisions then they’d be happy to make clear to the public what they were doing. But a new pension doesn’t make more materials available, doesn’t improve the customer experience and therefore it doesn’t improve anything for patrons and puts an enormous burden on working families and senior citizens. People already burdened with existing high taxes driven by the very same ideology on pensions. Keep in mind that these pensions started out promising to ‘save money’ and not be a burden. We know how that lie turned out.

Even if by any stretch of the imagination you believed that the library’s full-time staff deserves more money for retirement, we all already know that public pensions aren’t the way to go.  Feel free to be as generous with the retirement match as you want. Raise it up to 15, 20, 25 percent of their existing salary, but no more unfunded, open-ended liabilities forced on us by an unelected bureaucracy. Keep the local control and make certain it benefits the public welfare in general. Isn’t that the whole reason we even hold elections in the first place? These people are supposed to be our friends and neighbors. Why are Niles library board members Linda Ryan, Karen Dimond, Barbara Nakinishi, Patti Rozanski and Tim Spadoni ignoring us – their friends and neighbors – and acting in such a secretive way? If you know them, ask them why they’re being so tricky.

Morgan Dubiel is the former president of the Niles Public Library Board. He served on the board for 13 years.

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