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EDITORIAL: Enough with the golden parachutes for top public executives

A bill pending in the Illinois Senate would limit the size of severance packages given to exiting top public executives. Here, Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Feb. 14, 2018 in the House Chamber at the Capitol in Springfield, Ill. (Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP)

Do you know what really bugged us?

When the president of Northern Illinois University, Doug Baker, was sent packing last year because of a misspending scandal and the university cut him a severance check worth more than a half-million dollars.

NIU was rewarding failure.


Do you know what else bugged us?

When the president of Chicago State University, Thomas Calhoun Jr., was eased out two years ago, after a mere nine months on the job, and picked up a severance check worth $600,000.

For no reason that anybody has ever explained, Calhoun got a terrific golden parachute.

And do you know what really got our goat?

When Metra CEO Alex Clifford, who had accused Metra’s board of political hiring, agreed to leave three years ago, he was granted a severance deal worth more than $650,000.

That was an awful lot of train fares.

The sorry truth is that public universities, agencies and local governments in Illinois have a bad habit of throwing money at top executives as they walk out the door, even when the executives leave under a cloud, and it has got to stop.

A bill pending in Springfield, which we support, would do just that, tightly limiting severance deals for public executives. Senate Bill 3604 looks to us like a law that any legislator or governor — Democratic or Republican — who puts the taxpayer first should be eager to support.

The Government Severance Pay Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, would prohibit employees fired for misconduct from collecting any severance at all, and it would limit severance packages for other public executives to a maximum of 20 weeks of pay.

As the Better Government Association, which is pushing the bill hard, says, it would “give governments in Illinois the ability to remain competitive while eliminating abuses that fuel taxpayer mistrust.”

The bill would protect your taxpayer dollars. Equally important, it would safeguard the honor of the vast majority of public employees who, at every level, work for a paycheck that is anything but exorbitant.

Every time a top public executive, even when embroiled in a scandal, flies away with an absurdly generous golden parachute, the reputation of all public employees is unfairly tainted — and that, too, has to end.

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