Ousted OP manager sues over termination, pension

Barwin says he was denied ability to purchase pension credits for vesting

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Former Oak Park Village Manager Tom Barwin is suing the village government, saying the village reneged on a promise that would have allowed him to resign with a fully vested Illinois pension. Barwin also claims that the village breached its employment agreement, refusing to discuss his 2011 performance evaluation with him before forcing him out of his position. 

The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court, states that in February 2012, the village board met in a closed session and later two board members gave Barwin the option of resigning from his position as village manager with a severance package or be fired for cause at the upcoming board meeting without the package.

Barwin now says that the village government then "refused to allow Mr. Barwin to purchase out-of-state pension credits" that would have allowed him to reached vested status in Illinois and receive full pension benefits "despite the fact that the village had assured him it would do so."

Barwin served as village manager from mid-2006 to early 2012, earning $165,411 annually at the time of his resignation. His six years of service is two short of the eight years required to vest in a pension in Illinois.

He argues in the lawsuit that he "performed exceptionally well" as village manager, guiding the village government through the 2008 financial crisis, trimming a growing budget deficit and successfully overseeing a $6 million capital improvement program, among other accomplishments.

In February 2012, the village board met in closed session and then-Village President David Pope and Trustee Colette Lueck met later with Barwin and allegedly told him that he would be terminated if he did not resign, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit also claims that Barwin was not given a meaningful opportunity to discuss his performance evaluation with the full board.

Reached by telephone, Barwin declined comment on the lawsuit. His attorney, Ruth Major, said in a telephone interview said he should have been given the opportunity to defend his performance.

"The purpose of that process is it could change people's view of what action to take," Major said.

She said the meeting, held in closed session, also violates the Open Meetings Act.

Village spokesman David Powers said in an email response to questions that the village has received a copy of the lawsuit, but Village Attorney Paul Stephanides has not had time to review it.

"Following his review, it will be determined if a public comment is necessary or appropriate given the sensitive nature of personnel matters," Powers said.

Prior to his time as village manager of Oak Park, he served as city manager of Ferndale, Michigan. For the past two years Barwin has been the city manager in Sarasota, Florida.

At the time of his resignation, Barwin expressed concern that he might not qualify for a pension in Ferndale or Oak Park if he accepted the severance offer, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit states Barwin was told that, as a matter of village policy and past practice, he would be allowed to purchase his time from Michigan and apply it to his time in Oak Park to achieve the eight-year vesting requirement.

"The village had done so with previous village managers and had represented to Mr. Barwin that they would do the same for him. However, despite the village's promises and their own prior practices, the village denied his request, thereby depriving him of his ability to receive an Illinois pension," the lawsuit states. 

The lawsuit now requests a payment by the village to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund for sufficient time for the pension to vest or an award of damages that equal the value of the pension payments lost. 

Major said Barwin would have to contribute $35,000 and the village would have to spend $100,000 to $150,000 over 30 years to purchase the pension credits. The payout in benefits for the vested pension would total about $2,000 a month, Major said.

Contact: tim@oakpark.com

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Posted: August 18th, 2014 7:12 PM

I would not underestimate Tom Barwin. He is sharper than any of the board members of that time and definitely sharper that his assistant VM's. It is a guarantee that he understands his contract more than the board. He also had the board by the neck, so bet that the pension deal is solid. The last thing the board wanted was for the conditions of the exit agreement to become public. Well, the board now has its worst nightmare. I bet on Barwin.

John Q  

Posted: August 18th, 2014 4:53 PM

@ Nanc, he's different than other welfare recipients by his resume and professional portfolio. Plus he's filing a suit saying they failed to fulfill their contractual promises. In other words, what he feels "entitled" to is because the village agreed he was "entitled" to it. That's funny comparing an employment contract, where there is an exchange of work for compensation, to government programs where there is no exchange and only a distribution of compensation without a request for anything.


Posted: August 18th, 2014 4:17 PM

Memories - The chance that the WJ would bring back the PeopleSoft Fiasco is dim. The paper did not cover the PeopleSoft story until residents uncovered what was really going on technically and politically. As normal, the paper was a late follower. The PeopleSoft disaster reoccurs every day when a file can't be found, information cannot be communicated, and the web site is a data desert. The board or WJ do not want to talk about PeopleSoft or the website.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 16th, 2014 9:25 PM

Another VMA malfunction to remember!

Rich from Oak Park  

Posted: August 13th, 2014 9:37 PM

1) I am guessing that Mr. Barwin wouldn't spend his money on this case unless he and his attorney concluded that he had a solid argument supporting his claim. 2) Would someone tell us what constituted the "just cause" for his termination? (And please, no more rants from the troll who repeatedly logs in under a different name each time only to write the same poison.)


Posted: August 13th, 2014 5:14 PM

A private investigator hired by Pope and the village board didnt find any "wrongdoing" but maybe the States Attorney would have.

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 13th, 2014 1:21 PM

It wasn't the questionable payments Barwin approved that led to his ouster. The board accepted his excuse for failing to obtain approval thought it's still hard to understand how he didn't know they had to okay any spending over $25,000. The series of checks issued to the consultant were each reportedly for $24,999.99 and totaled over $250,000. Barwin and the CFO may have played fast and loose with the truth but a private investigator concluded they were not guilty of fraud. Strange but true!


Posted: August 13th, 2014 11:55 AM

Mr. Barwin may have a good case against the village. Why was he asked to resign but the Chief Financial officer wasnt? Wednesday Journal should bring back their articles on the Peoplesoft issue that created Mr. Barwin's demise but left the CFO unscathed.

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 13th, 2014 11:40 AM

The Village trustees who are lawyers and Oak Park's legal counsel should have raised concerns and objections to any severance deal for Barwin that put taxpayers on the hook for more than $100,000. What were they thinking? If Barwin's performance failed to meet acceptable standards; why allow this financial obligation to be part of his agreement to resign? Let's get some answers from current board members who agreed to this before proceeding with yet another costly legal battle.

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: August 13th, 2014 10:29 AM

The village president (Pope) and trustees (Lueck, Johnson, Salzam, Tucker, et al) at that time need to be held accountable for any legal severance / pension agreement made with Mr. Barwin. If it was a questionable agreement, let's not place the blame on Mr. Barwin, who was employed by the village board, but rather on those elected officials who were representing the public interest.

Frank vozak from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: August 13th, 2014 10:13 AM

Mr Barwin may have made mistakes as village manager but he also established a different connection to the community than many other VM. He lived in the eastern part of the village, attended to issues in the eastern part of the village, actually met with common citizens and with citizen organizations across the policitcal and socioeconomic spectrum in the village and from my perspective had a much greater feel for the totality of Oak Park than many others in village govt

HR 101  

Posted: August 12th, 2014 8:44 PM

Fire a Village Manager and then shortly thereafter hire a fired Village Manager.

Dooper from Oak Park  

Posted: August 12th, 2014 2:59 PM

Didn't they pay for a house for him as well? Unfortunately this is why people distrust govt. He feels he is owed something? This is ridiculous.


Posted: August 12th, 2014 2:56 PM

How is he different from anyone else who lives off welfare?

Fern from Oak Park  

Posted: August 12th, 2014 2:31 PM

The numbers involved demonstrate how out-of-touch and out-of-whack this whole system is. Illinois is flat broke, and this story points up one of the reasons why. Cynical manipulation of the system!

NFL $$  

Posted: August 12th, 2014 12:15 PM

Can he get a loan from his son the NFL star? Connor Barwin signed a 6 year / $36 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, including a $3,000,000 signing bonus, $8,000,000 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $6,000,000.


Posted: August 12th, 2014 7:43 AM

Barwin was a horrible VM. Frequent liar, one could not help but come away feeling slimy after meeting with him. Hope he rots in Florida.

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 12th, 2014 12:12 AM

What would be cause to fire Barwin? When it was revealed that Barwin has approved a number of suspicious payments to a consultant, the Village Board hired an outside investigator who determined that the manager had not committed a crime. Barwin even claimed he wasn't aware of any requirement to obtain board approval. The trustees announced they were satisfied and dropped the matter. So, if handing over $250,000 without board approval wasn't grounds for dismissal. What was?

alberg from Oak Park  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 10:28 PM

Oak Park's taxes are so high and our finances are in such a shambles because of pensions. GET OUT OF THE PENSION BUSINESS!!! If Social Security (and benefits based on the average of 10 years earnings, not a sweetheart last year), are good enough for the rest of us, it should be good enough for Village employees - especially those about to be fired FOR CAUSE.


Posted: August 11th, 2014 9:26 PM

It all sounds like a money grab. I say fight him. Eight years means eight years to me. I have no Pension, 401K, or anything else, personally, despite working in the village for my entire career. Seems like he responded to an ad in the Village Manager periodical from a predatory attorney.


Posted: August 11th, 2014 9:20 PM

According to the Detroit Free Press, Baldwin left Ferndale after 8.5 yrs making $101K. OP started him at $152K. I do not know what the employee contribution rate for MI is, but I'm guessing he contributed much less based on his much lower salary. So Baldwin spent more career time in MI, contributed less towards his retirement there, and now OP is going to pick up the pension obligation? 30+ yrs of IL taxpayer paying for MI services? His OP service credits should transfer back to MI.

C. Jennings from Oak Park  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 9:06 PM

Dang, I've never made near 165k a year, and likely never will, nor will I receive a pension. Why didn't they just can him. I hate that I have to keep paying for these sweet government pension deals!

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 7:42 PM

The lack of transparency in the hiring and firing of Mr. Barwin leads me to believe that the deals made by the Village Board are not on the up and up.


Posted: August 11th, 2014 5:58 PM

"[The Board] gave Barwin the option of resigning from his position as village manager with a severance package or be fired for cause at the upcoming board meeting without the package." Fine. Then the Board should retroactively fire Barwin for cause. Problem solved.


Posted: August 11th, 2014 5:24 PM

Let's do the math...If Baldwin is allowed to transfer his service credits here, that will equate to 10 years of service. According to IMRF, his pension would then equal 16% of his final salary of $160K, or $25K/yr. Let's just say all 10 years were in OP. At the 4.5% employee contribution rate, he would have contributed $72K over 10 years, most of which would have been invested in a very turbulent market, so not much investment gains. That is a great investment...for him. Can we have that too?


Posted: August 11th, 2014 5:14 PM

Why on earth would OP allow anyone to transfer their out-of-state service credit INTO OP? That means the IL taxpayer assumes the liability for 6 years of service in MI (probably at a much lower salary) yet pays out the pension based on his final salary in OP. I say refund him his 4.5% or transfer his OP service credits to MI. This is a horrible deal for the local taxpayer.

Friar Tuck from OP  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 5:08 PM

His employment agreement should be a public document, as should the closed session meeting minutes. It seems, on the surface, that both Barwin and the trustees made mistakes in judgment here. If Barwin didn't actually buy the years within the time frame, that's his bad. The Trustee lawyer (Heise) likely has some culpability here too. Minimize our expense in this whole sordid tale please. Maybe Tom's son can share some of his NFL millions with Pops??

Patricia O'Shea from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 4:58 PM

There should be a paper trail or like the commenter below said, transcripts on this. Please Oak Park, if this was part of the deal just fulfill it and don't waste a bunch of money fighting it. Regrets, I have a few too but buyers remorse isn't going to work here if Mr Barwin's claim is true.


Posted: August 11th, 2014 4:52 PM

My understanding is that Barwin had the right to buy out of state pension credits after completing two years with the village. Why did he wait until he was fired to press the issue? Gee, ya thunk he would have negotiated that in his initial contract with the village.

OP Res 253  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 4:16 PM

His argument is largely the board told him he sucked but not HOW MUCH he sucked. If he knew that, he could have brought up the kids with brain cancer thing, and then they probably wouldn't have thought him so, you know, sucky. Nowhere does he dispute that he failed to meet Board expectation, just that his failure shouldn't lead to termination, and if it does, it should still pay well. Next time Jim, have Karen Lewis right your contract.

Oak Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 4:15 PM

I'm on Mr. Barwin's side right now. Sounds like an agreement was made under which he resigned and the village board needs to live up to the agreement. Looking forward to hearing comments from David Pope on this issue.

CPA Jeff from Oak Park  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 4:07 PM

Another example of the LaLa Land that our government servants reside. In how many regular jobs would someone get to fully vest in a nice government defined benefit pension when they have not worked 20 years. Teacher pensions are based on years of service. But mayors, superintendents, etc. get the sweetest deal. I say "hello no" to this request. The VOP owes it to all taxpayers to fight this.

Harry Sexton from Oak Park  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 3:45 PM

Let that be a lesson to the Village, if you need to fire some one, fire them sooner than later and no "deals".


Posted: August 11th, 2014 3:45 PM

Seems like village managers and school superintendents exist to work for a few years, get fired and bicker over huge retirement settlements.

Mark from Oak Park  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 3:02 PM

There should be a transcript of the closed board meeting.

dan hurt from elmhurst  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 2:37 PM

So he works less than 6 years and wants a lifetime pension payment??? Seriously!!!! I wonder why this town, like many others are in trouble- He was to be fired or resign. Get out and don't come back!!!Pay the lawyers on this one.

Tom Scharre from Oak Park  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 2:24 PM

I remember, when the bottom dropped out back in 2007, Mr. Barwin suggested the creditors of Oak Park should just cool their heels and wait for better times to collect their money. This is not a serious man.

In Glen Ellyn formerly from OP  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 2:15 PM

Whoever said, "if it sounds too good to be true, get it in writing", wasn't kidding"

Keith from Oak Park  

Posted: August 11th, 2014 2:03 PM

He lived nicely off the taxpayer's money as an incompetent Village Manager. He was given the choice of resigning or being terminated and, now he wants to make certain he qualifies for a nice Illinois pension. Sounds reasonable to me. He can just add that to the other pensions he'll collect . What a loser.


Posted: August 11th, 2014 2:00 PM

What are the numbers? Arent they important in this discussion?

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