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Spendthrift Fire Chief Goes Out With Golden Parachute

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It’s Good To Have Friends in High Places

MICHELLE GIBSON RECENTLY RETIRED FROM HER position as fire chief of the Tri-State Fire Protection District in DuPage County, Illinois.  But not before she negotiated a sweetheart of a severance pay deal that has caught the attention of many taxpayers.

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Michelle Gibson

Gibson is in a civil union with her “partner” Jill Strenzel who just happens to be one of the three fire commssioners that the fire chief reports to.  When Gibson left the department she carried with her a $136,000 payout for unused sick leave and vacation pay.  WMAQ-TV reports:

Attorney Shawn Collins, who specializes in negotiating employment contracts and disputes, reviewed the agreement and labeled it “ridiculous.” He said he’s never heard of anyone getting “paid in 2014 for an unused sick day from 1989.”

Collins concluded that the Tri-State Fire District has the appearance of a “fiefdom or a private family business somewhere where a bunch of people who know each other are deciding how to carve up family money.”

WMAQ-TV filed this video report:

Gibson has been under scrutiny lately following a year-long investigation by the Better Government Association where it was uncovered that during her 6-year tenure as chief she has overseen some outlandish expenditures for things like entertainment and legal expenses.

In a summary of its results from the aforementioned investigation, the Better Government Association wrote:

In 2007, Strenzel voted on Gibson’s promotion from deputy chief to chief, and since then Strenzel has voted on several other agreements that dictate Gibson’s salary and benefits, according to interviews, and fire district records obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Among Gibson’s perks: use of a 2012 Ford Expedition that she’s allowed to use for “personal and business” reasons.

According to Gibson’s most recent contract, which was approved in April 2012 by all board members, including Strenzel, the chief stands to make about $138,000 in 2013 and about $143,000 in 2014. She was making $104,000 as deputy chief, and that jumped to $115,000 following her 2007 promotion, which took effect in 2008, records show.

Willowbrook Mayor Robert Napoli, who also learned of Strenzel’s voting record from the BGA, said, “The person may be very well qualified but that’s not the point. That’s like me taking care of a relative of mine and making sure not only that they are employed but getting raises and promotions. Does that sound right? To me, that’s improper.”

Read the entire article HERE

The Chicago Sun-Times has a good, in-depth report on the payscale hanky-panky that took place just before Gibson’s appointment HERE.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Ukfbbuff

    Yes there appears to be a conflict of interest

    Also, the payout for unused sick leave dating back to 1989 may be what was negotiated in past years and renewed over the years.

    As unusual as this may seem to Attorney Shawn Collins, a similar agreement in the San Francisco FD allowed on retiring Asst’ Chief to be paid about three times the amount.

    It appears unfair but then again it’s negotiated benefits.