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.
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