Cicero library board members get pricey perk: free health care for life

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exterior photos of the Cicero Public library. Story how library trustees there can get free health insurance for life, along with their spouse, and kids intil they are 19. I Scott Stewart/Sun-Times

For many folks who serve on their towns’ library boards, the job comes with few perks.

Free coffee at meetings, maybe first crack at the used-book sale.

Former library board members in Cicero, though, get something worth a whole lot more, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

They get excellent health insurance, currently a BlueCross BlueShield PPO plan.

For life.

For free.

Their spouses and kids, until they turn 19, are covered, too, for free.

What if the trustee dies?

Not to worry.

The family inherits the benefit, according to a legal analysis obtained by the Sun-Times.

The former trustees don’t even have to serve their full six-year terms on the library board to get the benefit, once they leave.

Four years of service is good enough.

For now, at least six former library board members are taking the health insurance benefit, costing the library nearly $100,000 this year – a big bite for a modest library with a budget of only $1.7 million, records show. It’s the same insurance library workers get, but they don’t get it for free.

The annual cost for insurance for former library trustees could shoot up to more than $300,000 a year, as more former trustees take advantage of the benefit, according to a 2009 analysis.

Facing such dire prospects, the library board voted in 2010 to end the benefit.

For newly elected trustees, that is.

The trustees voting on the proposal – many of whom are still on the board – didn’t exclude themselves from the free health insurance when they leave. Library professionals said in general they had never heard of such a rich benefit for library trustees.

When the Cicero library trustees created the benefit for themselves in 1998, they noted in the resolution that the trustees “selflessly donate extensive and untold hours of their time to represent the public concerning the library . . .”

Another former trustee, though, had a different take on the work involved.

“It was a meeting once a month,” said the former trustee, who asked not to be named. “You’d just show up.

“It was no big deal. It was a piece of cake.”

Meetings would typically last an hour or so, the former trustee said. The 1998 meeting in which trustees voted themselves the free health insurance, for instance, lasted an hour and 10 minutes.

It’s not even clear if all the Cicero library trustees actually live in Cicero, as is required.

Library trustee Craig Pesek, for instance, said he lives in Cicero. County records, though, show he takes a homeowner’s exemption for a property – in Westchester.

He and his brother, Jeff, are highly paid consultants for the town government, making more than $850,0000 in fees under Town President Larry Dominick – whom they helped put in office and re-elect. The town and the library are technically separate, but the library relies on the town for funding.

Pesek insisted in an interview Thursday that he lives in Cicero.

He said he is part of a partnership that owns the property in Westchester, and that his brother’s 11-year-old son lives there, along with the boy’s mother, and that he understood he could take the homeowner’s exemption since family was living there.

The Cook County assessor’s office, though, makes it clear that the person receiving the homeowner’s exemption “must have occupied the property” for the tax year he received the exemption.

“I can look into that,” Pesek said.

As for the free health insurance, Pesek said he never plans to use it.

“I hope I don’t have to use it,” Pesek said.

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