FILE - Ex-NIU President Doug Baker

Former Northern Illinois University President Doug Baker

A new law that takes effect in the new year aims to cut down on how much boards can approve to pay someone when a high profile public employee severs employment with a taxpayer-funded institution.

Back in 2015, the College of DuPage Board voted to fire President Robert Breuder in the wake of a spending scandal and deny him a $763,000 severance package. Breuder later filed suit against the college. The college has since spent more than $500,000 fighting Breuder in court, according to media reports. Reports about other executive payouts from public entities followed.

Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, said it just kept stacking up.

“Heck, Chicago State [University] gave $600,000 to somebody who had only served nine months as president,” Cullerton recalled.

That was Thomas Calhoun Jr. in 2016.

In 2017, the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees approved a $617,000 exit package for President Doug Baker after investigations into contracts given to his personal friends.

“We just had a spot up here in Des Plaines, a superintendent of a school district got a hundred-seventy-something thousand and he had been their less than a year,” Cullerton said.

That was former Des Plaines Elementary District 62 Superintendent Floyd Williams, who got $127,000 after the Daily Herald reported he was accused of sexually harassing employees. Williams denied wrongdoing.

Cullerton said he and others got tired of hearing about expensive taxpayer-funded golden parachutes for executives. He quickly recalled four different payouts that totaled more than $2.5 million “that have been given away to chief administrators who should have been let go.”

“Instead of fighting being let go and having them take us to court, boards opted to give them money instead and have them walk away and keep their mouths shut,” Cullerton said.

It was time to put a stop to it, he said, and the bill he sponsored with a bipartisan group of lawmakers limits severance payouts from public bodies to 20 weeks of pay.

“Every contract going forward – here’s the most amount you can get,” Cullerton said. “Take it or leave it.”

The measure that takes effect Jan. 1 also prohibits severance pay for administrators fired for misconduct.

Cullerton dismissed the idea that such limits on public board decisions will make them less competitive attracting talent.

“I think you're still going to find everyone wants to be the village manager,” Cullerton said. “Everybody still wants to be the president of a university.”

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.