By Brian Costin -
The city of Chicago spent a shocking $197 million in overtime pay over the last year. Some public servants were paid more in overtime pay than their regular salary.
One city employee, Police Communications Operator Lisa Jamison, earned $122,088 in overtime pay, on top of her $80,136 annual salary.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “107 police officers collected overtime paychecks that topped $50,000; 1,186 got more than $25,000 in extra pay; and 3,790 officers earned more than $10,000 extra.”
While some amount of overtime can be a good investment financially for the city’s taxpayers and good for employees, when used to extreme levels it can be a sign of abuse or deteriorating employment conditions in which public workers are asked to work an unsafe number of hours in a week.
Do we really want police officers working 60, 70 and 80 hours a week when they are being asked to make critical life-and-death decisions on the job?
Being the largest cost area for most local governments, public employee compensation is also a critical issue that is demanding the public’s attention because of the financial strains it places on a community. Unfortunately, Chicago failed a recent website transparency audit by the Illinois Policy Institute, and registered a zero in the employee compensation category, giving citizens no way to be educated participants in the local government decision-making process.
Chicago does post a current employee salary document on its open data portal, but that document doesn’t have a clear date and doesn’t include any overtime information. It also doesn’t include any information on other forms of compensation such as health insurance or pension costs.
At the other end of the spectrum is the city of Evanston, just north of Chicago. Evanston scored a 100 percent on our audit and posts employee compensation on an annual basis in a sortable total compensation spreadsheet that includes salary, medical, pension, taxes, special pay, etc. – a much more comprehensive look at employee compensation.
The city of Evanston is rare when it comes to online transparency. Most taxpayers in Illinois are left in the dark. Taxpayers have a right to know total compensation costs for their public servants. But in order to make this a reality a state law needs to be passed to make it happen.
House Bill 3312 would require every local government that spends more than $1 million in a year to post online: “a detailed list of the total compensation paid to each employee including wages, salary, overtime and benefits, including health dental, life, and pension.”
Prior to being elected mayor, Rahm Emanuel, vowed to create “the most open, accountable, and transparent government that the city of Chicago has ever seen.”
It might take passing a state law to hold the mayor to his promise.
Brian Costin is Director of Government Affairs for the Illinois Policy Institute