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Editorial: Navy Pier execs pad wallets in the shadows

Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Navy Pier could be doing better. Attendance is off, and its big makeover is more than a year behind schedule.

EDITORIAL

The Pier’s top executives, though, are doing fine. They’re pocketing big bonuses.

Has somebody failed to notice all those empty seats on the Ferris Wheel?

Were it not for a report Navy Pier Inc. filed with the IRS, brought to light Sunday by Sun-Times reporters Tim Novak and Chris Fusco, we wouldn’t even know about those bonuses. Much of the spending by the nominally “private” nonprofit group that runs the Midwest’s biggest tourist attraction is kept secret.

It’s a system that begs for transparency and reform. Navy Pier, nonprofit board or not, is a wholly public asset. The general public, many of whom don’t earn in a year what the Pier’s top exec got for a bonus — $75,000 — deserve to know where their money is going.

Although classified as an independent nonprofit, Navy Pier Inc. receives millions of dollars a year from the taxpayer-supported Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, also known as McPier. But somehow, Navy Pier Inc. doesn’t think that money is public anymore once it changes hands, so they don’t have to show how they spend it. That is absurd.

Last year, the Better Government Association sued after Navy Pier Inc. refused to release records to the Sun-Times and the BGA.

It’s hard not to suspect Navy Pier Inc. is clamming up because, in part, they would rather you didn’t know about those generous bonuses. In 2013, nine executives picked up bonuses totaling nearly $350,000. That doesn’t look good in a newspaper headline.

The numbers Navy Pier Inc. files with IRS are delayed and limited, which only makes us wonder what else curious taxpayers might find if they could get the same close look at the books that is available to them at any other government agency.

And it’s not just the bonuses. One electrician working for the Pier was paid $230,660, with overtime. We’re all for paying people well for working OT, but seriously? And politicians wonder why voters get cynical.

The Pier’s payroll, contracts and leases were all public information before Navy Pier Inc. took over management in 2011, awarded a 25-year, $1-a-year-lease. By way of contrast, McCormick Place’s finances remain public.

Navy Pier, in the real world of common sense, is no more a private enterprise than McCormick Place, Lincoln Park or the White House. Open the books.