Lisle-Woodridge Fire District reverses decision to withhold public records; offers finance director $65,000 in severance pay
The records were released less than 24 hours after John Kraft of the Edgar County Watchdogs group called out the fire district for not complying with his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and withholding public information on the finance department’s severance packages approved at an open public meeting held on March 22.
“What happened is they submitted a FOIA request for severance packages for our finance people,” James Weaver, FOIA Compliance Officer for the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District, told the DuPage Policy Journal. “And it was our attorney’s opinion to not release that and to have the denial. So it came through our attorney for this denial.”
The Lisle-Woodbridge Fire District Board of Trustees decided to eliminate the district’s finance department and contract the work out to an accounting firm. The fire district’s finance department was laid off on March 22 and offered severance packages.
The fire district initially denied Kraft’s FOIA request for a copy of the severance agreements on April 12, citing “agreement is preliminary draft” as the reason for denial.
Kraft blasted the fire district, particularly Weaver, for violating the FOIA and said the district “should replace him with someone who can follow the law.”
“How can a severance agreement, which already had final action taken and was approved, be considered a 'preliminary draft' of anything?” Kraft wrote on the group’s website.
Less than 24 hours later, Weaver provided the copies of the severance agreements to Kraft.
Weaver said after the denial went out and “this all kind of transpired” the fire district sat down again and talked about the situation with the chief and “made things right and gave them the information.”
“The information was provided. It wasn’t me personally as a FOIA officer saying no," Weaver said. "It did go through our attorneys and in taking with the chief a little bit more we reversed that and provided those documents.”
The request was initially denied because the agreement was in a preliminary draft, Weaver said.
“It was a severance package and they had yet to have it signed by the participants and they just signed it,” he said. “They had 21 days and another seven days to retract it and I believe that is the premise they were going on. So long story short, all of it was provided.”
According to the records released, from March 23 through July 22, former finance director Barbara Beshears will receive $3,681.32 biweekly in salary and $1,496.13 monthly in employer health insurance contributions.
In addition, she is entitled to up to $2,000 for outplacement services; $14,447.98 in accrued vacation time; and $19,155.75 for unused sick days.
Randi Wobrock, the fire district’s former finance clerk, will receive $1,305.96 biweekly in salary; $1,546.03 monthly in employer health insurance contributions; up to $2,000 for outplacement services; and $844.56 in accrued vacation time.
Former Finance Assistant Cathy Hojek’s severance agreement indicates she will receive $2,484.85 biweekly in salary from April 21 through to July 22, or June 3 if she fails to adequately perform her duties during the transition.
She will receive $730.64 monthly in employer health insurance contributions, up to $2,000 for outplacement services and $7,974.46 in accrued vacation time.
In 2012, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin released the DuPage ACT Initiative, which stands for Accountability, Consolidation, Transparency, and aims to achieve greater accountability in local government by providing a roadmap for agencies to follow to comply with county policies.
“We very much believe in the DuPage Act, everything they have with accountability and everything like that. We very much believe in that and we are very much part of that,” Weaver said.
Weaver pointed out that the fire district was recently acknowledged by the Edgar County Watchdog group in a post for being one of six agencies that complied with all of the group’s FOIA requests.
“And then a week later we have this happen,” Weaver said. “It wasn't something where we were trying to hide anything at all because we very much believe in open government. It was kind of the direction we were given and we understand wholeheartedly.”