Once again, a public agency, without bothering to clue in the taxpayers, is throwing money at a top employee as he heads out the door.
This time, on Thursday, it was the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. The agency that handles our local storm and sewage water agreed to pay $95,000 to its former executive director, David St. Pierre, along with six months’ worth of health insurance, according to the Better Government Association. The vote came two weeks after St. Pierre resigned, and seven weeks after he quietly went on paid leave.
We’re troubled by a couple of things.
First, the leader of an important regional agency went on leave without any public explanation as to when he might return. St. Pierre’s departure should not have been kept under wraps for so long. If the people we pay, as taxpayers, are no longer doing the jobs we pay them to do, we should be told.
Second, a non-disparagement clause in St. Pierre’s severance agreement means we are not to be told why he has left.
In essence, a public employee and a public agency reached a private agreement not to say anything about a public matter — though we’re kicking $95,000 to him as he heads out the door.
That’s the very opposite of transparency in government.
Public boards have handed out high-dollar buyouts in recent years at Chicago State University ($600,000), the College of DuPage ($763,000) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ($400,000). In 2013, Metra gave $652,000 to make its executive director, Alex Clifford, go away.
All of that money was spent by financially stretched institutions that already were struggling to achieve their missions.
MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore says an internal investigation that led to St. Pierre’s resignation had nothing to do with allegations of sexual or criminal misconduct. That just leaves us wondering what was, in fact, the big issue that prompted St. Pierre’s sudden exit.
When the MWRD board appointed John P. Murray as acting executive director in early June, Sun-Times columnist Madeleine Doubek asked, “What happened to St. Pierre? Where is he? Will he return? Is he under investigation? We don’t know.”
We still don’t know. It’s a mystery.
We just know that the MWRD, like so many other local governments of late, decided to cut a check — $95,000 from your property taxes — for work not to be done.
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