BELLEVILLE – St. Clair County board member Robert Allen Jr. claims the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund improperly terminated him and must reinstate him.
His lawyer, former chief judge John Baricevic, sued the fund in circuit court on Sept. 24, challenging a state law that took effect last year requiring politicians and appointed officials to work at least 1,000 hours a year to qualify for benefits.
The change meant that local government officials have to work at least 20 hours per week to be able to enroll in the plan that provides disability, retirement and death benefits versus 12 hours per week under former provisions of enrollment.
In the lawsuit, Baricevic wrote that Allen inadvertently left some hours from four monthly reports.
Allen was not given specific direction, “and as a result some meetings and time spent as a county board member were not itemized.”
Baricevic wrote that Allen hasn’t been provided a procedure for amending his reports; he relied on representations that he would receive direction on complying with regulations, to his detriment.
He wrote that Allen participated in the fund since his election and made contributions as required.
Voters in District 1 elected Allen, a Democrat, in 2014.
He defeated Republican Rob Dorman, current information technology director for Madison County, 1,284 to 675.
In September 2016, Allen and other elected officials participating in the fund received letters about new reporting requirements in state law that would take effect Jan. 1, 2017.
Allen received letters from the fund and the county, according to Baricevic. Allen attempted to gain clarification but the fund didn’t respond.
Baricevic wrote that the fund didn’t define a 12-month period indicated in the letters.
“Robert Allen Jr. was advised that the initial reporting months were an introductory period that would assist participants with learning how to report, but though required, would not result in action leading to termination,” Baricevic wrote.
The county allegedly requested direction to assist participants but was denied, and Allen received no communication indicating when the trial period would end.
Allen claims he has not been advised whether 12 months is a rolling period, a calendar period, or a fiscal year.
“Robert Allen Jr. has not been advised of how months with a large number of hours to months with a low number of hours affect the annual average,” Baricevic wrote.
Allen allegedly received no communication suggesting anything in his report would lead to termination.
In May, the fund’s board held a hearing on a complaint Allen filed, and it was denied on Aug. 28.
“The decision of the IMRF board denied plaintiff due process of law,” Baricevic wrote.
The lawsuit asserts broader claims.
“IMRF has publicly indicated that the intent was to punish St. Clair County board members,” he wrote.
“Other elected officials are not required to itemize their time spent and qualify for IMRF even if they, in fact, don’t work at all.
“The Illinois Constitution does not place any requirement on time spent to qualify as an elected official.
“Elected officials serve in their capacity 24 hours a day.”
The fund’s current information for prospective employers takes an opposite view.
“Absent unusual circumstances, governing body members will not work enough hours to qualify for participation in IMRF,” according to the IMRF.
The law requiring beneficiaries to work at least 20 hours per week to qualify for benefits was in part aimed at reducing stress on the fund's sustainability.
While the IMRF is the least unhealthy of all state public pension systems at a funding level of approximately 88 percent - compared to the worst funded General Assembly Retirement System (GARS) at approximately 13 percent - critics maintain that the law that increased a work week from one-and-a-half days to two-and-a-half days for pension eligibility only "tinkers" with a more profound problem.
Watchdog group Taxpayers United of America (TUA), as well as analysts at the Illinois Policy Institute and some fiscally conservative lawmakers, say public pension systems will crush the state economically if not not overhauled because they are unsustainable.
TUA director Jared Labell has said that pensions promised to government workers are overly lavish and unfair to taxpayers.
The Illinois Policy Institute says the state's broken pension systems are "a major pain point for taxpayers," including those in the state’s shrinking southern region.