What a deal! (Except for the taxpayer): Suburban trustees get benefits forever

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CHICAGO RIDGE, Ill. -- After working 30 years as a waitress in her home town of Chicago Ridge, Pat Kopchar is now retired and struggling on a fixed income.   She’s not looking for handouts to fix things like her leaky car held together by tape, but she’s certainly not interested in having her property taxes pay for a lifetime health insurance policy for her village trustees.

WGN Investigates learned that part-time village trustees are getting full-time health benefits - forever.

This sweetheart deal lay buried in the minutes of town law for more than 15 years. Then came the campaign – six candidates for three seats and the trustee’s health insurance was suddenly a campaign issue.

WGN Investigates caught up with one candidate clearly uncomfortable about it on the campaign trail. Trustee John Lind was surprised to see WGN in the village hall parking lot when he told us he didn’t think the insurance plan would survive the future. He promised to take a hard look at it but said, legally, it might be hard to take it away from people who already have it.

Lind later won the third and final opening for trustee. It’s his second term and by winning a second term, it triggers a guarantee that taxpayers will pay most of the freight of his health insurance - for life. And it gets better. When he or any trustee dies, the deal passes down to their spouse. Not even village employees get this benefit.

Fran Coglianese worked for the village for 22 years.

Now Coglianese is a trustee having just won the most votes and a seat on the board. She says taxpayers were angry when they heard about the insurance deal.

The costs are high for a small village. Former trustee, Don Pratl lost his election in 2007, but taxpayer’s have paid more than 100 thousand for his Cadillac health insurance ever since.

But before he left the board, Pratl voted to cut their own out of pocket insurance costs to that of what an employee pays. So now a trustee pays 20%, while the taxpayers pick up 80%. Think that’s a deal? There’s more. When a trustee turns 62, residents will pay 100% of his Medicare Part B. Another sweetheart deal he voted for.

WGN Investigates wanted to talk to him in person, but he wasn’t home. On the phone, at first Pratl claimed he had no memory of the deal. Later he said he earned the benefit and it was the law. He now says he’s opted out of the insurance benefit last year and would have worked to change the law if he’d not lost his seat in this month’s election.

Dan Badon voted for the deal more than a decade ago. Nowadays, he’d just as soon forget.

He didn’t want to comment to WGN at a recent board meeting saying, he lost his seat and it wasn’t up to him.

It’s true, he lost his seat, but no matter, he can keep collecting health insurance forever thanks to his vote long ago.

Badon says when he voted for the insurance deal, he was just a junior trustee going along with what the then-mayor wanted.

Both Pratl and Badon who pushed the deal through could reap the benefits for life even though they’re off the board.

Trustee Michael Davies is resigning this year, but wherever he goes he takes his lifetime benefit with him. But the question is -- should he? He admits the deal isn’t fair to taxpayers.

He uses tough talk, until asked about his own plans. He’s not sure if he’ll keep the insurance or not.

Trustee Sally Durkin is relatively new to the board and the only one to speak out during a recent village meeting. She quickly told WGN Investigates she’d revoke the insurance plan for everybody, past, present and future.

And now even the mayor now agrees it should be revisited.

But who knows, because what’s said during a campaign or even in front of cameras can change as quickly as the vote is won or the cameras fade away.

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    • Dan T

      Mary – this story addresses benefits for board members who are active. Chicago Ridge trustees can receive public coverage for 80% of their medical benefits after they leave service. There are VERY few municipalities or townships that offer this perk.

  • Resident

    Shameful!! I suppose they merit health insurance IF they are a full time official, WHILE they are in office, but NEVER for life! This is flat out stealing from the taxpayers. Get your own insurance like everyone else does when they lose a job!

  • Resident

    WGN should investigate why we’re over paying in taxes. I went for an appeal twice and was denied. I did my own investigating and some people who live on the same block, same square footage, same amout of rooms are paying less and some the same. This is public record. I gave my own appraisal with all information and was still denied. I’ve been a resident almost 15 years… I want my money back and my taxes decreased to what its actually suppose to be.

  • Susan

    WGN can you do an investigation as to why Chicago Ridge taxpayers are being over charged in taxes? I even tried fighting it three times and was denied. Its all public record and can be searched on internet. Why are some residents paying more than others with the same square footage, same amount of rooms, etc. Something is crooked with this. But I’m still going to keep fighting. I want my money back and decreased to correct amount.

  • Steve

    I’ll bet there are other towns that are getting this perk. They are just laying low right now and hope they won’t get investigated !!

    • resident

      there are others towns that are getting the same benefits but they keep deleted the links so much for honest reporting you just need to google trustee benefits for oaklawn, burbank, alsip, evergreen park

  • Christine

    This is outrageous! And it is wrong.
    I am embarrased that I did not know about this sweetheart deal that I am essentially paying for as a resident. Consider me informed. I will be at the meeting Tuesday night.

  • Mickey

    What Mark Suppelsa failed to investigate is the sweetheart deal that the newly elected trustee worked with the village for her and her daughter. SInce she couldn’t get more village sponsored health insurance for herself, she got her daughter a village job

  • resident

    Why isn’t WGN going to be at the board meeting tonight- even thou the issue was taken off the agenda by the Mayor and Clerk – you should be there asking why its not being address