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Our View

Our View: City has bad habit of offering 'lovely parting gifts'

Working for the city of Joliet is a lot like playing “Wheel of Fortune”: Sometimes, you can earn a huge amount of cash by simply spinning your wheels.

By anyone’s perspective, city work is a lucrative career. More than half of city workers earn at least $100,000 a year. Nearly a third earn more than $125,000 annually. And nearly a tenth earn more than $150,000. All that plus a solid benefits package, a pension if you’re in the union and 12 paid holidays to boot.

But it gets even better.

That’s because when you quit, the city sometimes gives you – as Pat Sajak would say – “lovely parting gifts.”

Such was the case when Joliet Police officer Brian Nagra resigned July 5, three days before his scheduled termination hearing on Monday. By doing so, Nagra was able to reach his 20-year work anniversary date, allowing the 42-year-old to start collecting his $50,000-a-year pension at age 50 instead of 60.

A lovely parting gift, indeed.

But Nagra’s windfall did not come without a lot of fingerpointing.

Police Chief Al Roechner said he handed over dismissal paperwork for Nagra and fellow officer Lionel Allen to the city attorney in January, and expected the cases to be heard within 30 days. Roechner expressed frustration in March when no action was taken, and that the pair still were on paid leave.

Assistant City Attorney Chris Regis maintained at the time that he had the authority to decide when to bring charges. He said he needed to give the officers’ attorney more time to prepare their cases.

Jeffrey Burke, attorney for the two officers, had yet another perspective. “We don’t believe actual charges have been filed,” Burke told the Joliet Police and Fire Board at a hearing on Monday.

After the meeting, Regis flip-flopped and said it was the chief’s duty and not his to file charges, referring to contract language. Asked why hearings were not held after Roechner filed papers in January, Regis retorted, “They filed documents. They didn’t file formal charges.”

Regis’ revelation was news to Roechner, who believed the dismissal papers were all in order. “Nobody from the city talked to me about it,” he said.

While Regis and Roechner were busy not talking to one another, Nagra was busy collecting more than $45,000 in paid leave this year, plus accumulating another $500,000 in future pension payments by staying on the payroll through his 20-year anniversary date.

No word yet on what Allen stands to gain – or lose – should his dismissal hearing ever even come to fruition.

Sadly, such bureaucratic bonanzas aren’t unprecedented in Joliet.

In 2018, former city manager David Hales earned a whopping $89,584 separation payment plus $5,375 in unused vacation time after parting ways with 150 W. Jefferson St. just 11 months into his contract.

And as with Nagra’s resignation, taxpayers were kept in the dark about the particulars of Hale’s departure. Still, one thing is for certain: the city of Joliet is not only a good place to work, it’s a good place to quit.

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