Turns out Gov. Pat Quinn’s parting gift for Lou Bertuca — his longtime aide and manager of his unsuccessful re-election campaign — was even more generous than it first appeared.
Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner and other critics blasted the lame duck’s post-election waddle to install the 30-year-old Bertuca in the $160,000-a-year job of Illinois Sports Facilities Authority executive director.
Bertuca’s resume consists mostly of service to Quinn. He has no experience doing anything like overseeing U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox stadium that’s owned and operated by the city-state agency he now heads.
Quinn not only handed the political plum to his friend. He also made it as hard as possible for Rauner to remove Bertuca without causing further harm to taxpayers, public records show.
A close reading of the fine print in Bertuca’s newly signed deal reveals how Quinn’s friends at the agency booby-trapped the situation that Rauner will walk into after he’s sworn in.
Bertuca’s contract is largely identical to the deal that the agency had with its last executive director, Kelly Kraft — with two highly significant differences that make things much cushier for Bertuca.
If Kraft had been fired, she would have been left with nothing more than a six-month consulting gig. In any case, she served out her two-year contract and is entitled to two months of severance pay.
Should Bertuca get let go by the ISFA board, though, his contract ensures he would be paid “the remaining base salary due through the term of this agreement in a lump sum” within a month of being fired. So Bertuca will be paid $320,000 in salary under the two-year deal regardless of whether Rauner can get him fired after taking office.
Bertuca also would get two months’ severance on top of the balance of his salary if the board removed him, according to a copy of the Dec. 15 contract obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.
And Bertuca’s deal made it harder to fire him than it would have been to dismiss Kraft.
A majority of the seven-member stadium-authority board could have fired Kraft “without cause.” To fire Bertuca, a “unanimous affirmative vote” of the board members is required.
The board includes four appointees of the governor and three chosen by the mayor of Chicago. All three of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s picks voted against hiring Bertuca.
Three of Quinn’s four appointees, including board Chairman Emil Jones Jr., have stayed on beyond the expiration of their terms, state records show. Rauner is free to replace those three after he takes office.
But the term of the fourth Quinn board appointee, Dr. Quentin Young, doesn’t end until June 30, 2015. Assuming Young continues to support Bertuca, he would be safe in his job until at least next summer.
Even if he’s fired then — as Rauner has said he will try to do — it would leave the agency to pay Bertuca well more than $200,000 for doing nothing.
Staying in the job is not a shabby prospect for Bertuca either. In addition to the $160,000-a-year wages — which represent a 73 percent raise over Bertuca’s last salary in state government — he’s getting family health, dental and vision insurance, plus a $320,000 life insurance policy, four weeks of annual paid vacation and five paid “personal leave” days a year, according to the contract documents.
All this is on the dime of a public body that runs the Cell and is siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars in city hotel tax revenues to pay off the costs of Soldier Field’s makeover.
It’s not bad gig for a young man who was jobless and is getting married soon.
In a statement, ISFA officials told me the contract was entered into “with taxpayers’ best interest in mind.” But the people of Illinois could have been better served if Quinn instead dipped into his own pocket to buy Bertuca a toaster oven or some of those plush bath towels.
Or maybe the job isn’t a wedding gift, and Quinn was just enjoying his last days as the state’s Santa by stuffing a loyal elf’s stocking. Rauner — and the rest of us taxpayers — are getting a lump of coal.