Lake County Housing Authority payout evidence that huge severance packages must end, Illinois watchdog group argues
Former Lake County Housing Authority CEO Jeneen Smith-Underwood received a $122,000 severance package after only a four-month stint in the position.
The Better Government Association (BGA) said Smith-Underwood's payout, as well as that of many others, is evidence Illinois has ignored a key method for reducing its budget shortfalls by ending the practice of awarding large severance packages to public employees.
The housing authority claimed that the package was funded by private real estate deals and no taxpayer money was used.
The BGA calls the packages so large that they near so-called "golden parachutes" awarded in private business. The process of determining the size of severance packages has also been less than transparent, the watchdog group said.
The BGA says the process was not transparent, making it hard to tell if that was true.
The BGA cites both Florida and California as states that have reined in severance pay. In 2015, California passed a law cutting back severance pay for K-12 superintendents from 18 months to 12. In 2011, Florida cut back severance pay for all its public employees. Contracted employees are limited to 20 weeks, while non-contracted employees are limited to six weeks.
Illinois does have one piece of severance pay law, but it only applies to community colleges. Illinois community college employees are entitled to no more than one year of severance pay, and other aspects of the law make the process of contract renewal more open and transparent, the BGA said.