After the submission of more than 32,000 documents, affidavits and summary resolutions from three park district boards, Marengo Parks and Recreation Superintendent Joe Vallez was cleared of any alleged wrongdoing by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund Board of Trustees, stemming from directorial positions with four park districts, including one on a full-time basis. The Aug. 16 determination allowed Vallez to remain eligible to participate in the state-funded pension, based on meeting the minimum required hours for the positions, by law.
During their Aug. 18 session, board members have requested further investigation be conducted, with an open-ended time. The Bensenville Parks Board voted 3-2 to hire Vallez last Dec. 21, as its interim director. The part-time position generated a short-term contract for under five months, at $6,000 per month. The appointment triggered the investigation through a complaint that Vallez was not meeting IMRF standards of working at least 1,000 hours annually in their position, for pension qualification.
He also heads the North Berwyn Park District on a full-time basis, as well as part-time director slots with the Justice and Marengo park districts.
“He was initially allowed to participate by the board, based on affidavits that were filed by the North Berwyn, Marengo, and Justice park districts,” said IMRF Executive Director Louis Kosiba. “Those boards also passed resolutions confirming that he had worked the required number of hours. He was allowed to continue his participation in the pension program, although our board again reviewed the materials, forwarded by the park districts.
“They directed us to complete an added investigation. Our legal department instructed us to go back to these districts and request documents and materials, pertaining to the basis for their affidavits, and the resolutions,” he said.
The resolutions by the individual park districts also outlined his duties as a requirement of the IMRF statutes. Coupled with the more than 32,000 documents, the final determination by the IMRF board found that his participation in the pension program was in compliance with the aforementioned standards.
“I report directly to the board of commissioners for all three park districts that materials are being requested from,” said Vallez. “Who better to verify that the number of hours are correct and that I am meeting my contractual obligations? Really, in my work, these findings confirmed that I put in the time, and they were given everything they asked for.
“One thing that was not addressed in all this, it was not maneuvering for pensions as a perk … it’s a benefit that was earned. I had no choice but to join IMRF … it’s in their own rules. I have to join IMRF. Per my agreements with the three districts, I don’t have to be at the locations physically.
“I can be in the car, in a restaurant, meeting with residents … and the IMRF said nothing. Everything is transparent with the contracts, the districts know of each other. By structuring it the way it is, it’s less pay, less benefits, and they save money through costs associated with the employment tenure.”
Salaries in 2015, at the other districts, were Marengo ($34,996), Justice ($81,393), and the full-time slot at North Berwyn ($128,325) were the focal points and basis for contribution amounts. During the investigation, the IMRF sent correspondence to the three districts requesting documentation, dating from December 2014, to validate his participation in the pension program, eventually culminating in his retirement benefits.
It was learned that the Bensenville position is noneligible, due to its part-time format and he receives no healthcare concessions. He has worked at North Berwyn for the past 15 years, Justice for the past six years, and two years in Marengo.
Vallez has a track record with overseeing financially troubled park districts, and working to improve their resources, according to the park district boards that have employed him. In Marengo, district holdings such as the public Starfish Swimming Pool and the Skate Park were closed due to funding issues and maintenance. The Skate Park and the Indian Oaks playground, itself more than two decades old, were later deemed safety hazards and dismantled, after Vallez came on board in 2014.
The district’s finances were similarly stunted through a failed bond referendum in 2013, and the subsequent sale of bonds, by board members. In the past two years, the district has lowered its annual budget by $100,000 in attempting to recover from the shortfalls, through numerous austerity initiatives.
Vallez appeared before the Marengo city Council in September 2016, and requested financial assistance in replacing the equipment at Indian Oaks Park. The needed $30,000 price tag was met through consensus-building that resulted in donated funds and materials from residents and commercial entities. A volunteer work crew of 50 residents and trades people met at the park site May 13, and spent the day erecting a new playground.
The community celebrated its installation of the new Intren Playground with a June 3 ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“That was a very good day … a park district should reflect what the community wants,” said Vallez. “I have no family, I’m dedicated to my work, and putting in the time … this is my life. Hopefully, these (hiring) decisions are made because of my efforts in these positions.”
— After IMRF approval, investigation into Vallez and park districts continues —