Oak Park’s former village manager, Tom Barwin, will not receive a pension for his time serving as the village’s top administrative official, according to an April 30 court ruling by Judge Mary M. Rowland.
“The terms of Barwin’s employment agreement are unambiguous and did not require Oak Park to authorize the purchase of pension credits,” Rowland wrote in the summary judgment.
Citing breach of contract, Barwin attempted to sue the village of Oak Park for refusing to allow him to purchase out-of-state pension credits following his compulsory resignation in 2012. The case against the village was filed two years after on Aug. 6, 2014.
“Additionally, after Mr. Barwin’s forced resignation, the village refused to allow Mr. Barwin to purchase reciprocal out-of-state pension credits, despite the fact that the village had assured him it would do so,” Barwin’s original filing argued.
Following the judgment, Barwin told Wednesday Journal in an email that he planned to appeal, stating that the village was denying him his retirement despite his service to Oak Park.
“As someone who has worked to be fair to all employees over four decades of public service, we will continue to seek justice in my case,” Barwin wrote in the email.
Unless an employee purchases out-of-state pension credits, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pensions require eight years of employment. Barwin had worked just over five years with the village at the time of his resignation, during which was under the leadership of then-president David Pope.
Barwin was given the option of resigning or being fired during a private meeting with Pope and then-trustee Colette Lueck, according to his original filing. If he resigned, Barwin would receive a board-directed severance package.
“Any manager works at the pleasure of the board,” Lueck told Wednesday Journal. “His contract was up, and I think the consensus of the board was that he wasn’t the right fit for the moment.”
When he agreed to resign, his case argued that Pope had given Barwin verbal assurance to allow purchase of pension credits. Wednesday Journal has reached out to Pope for comment.
In his email to Wednesday Journal, Barwin wrote that he believed that the private meeting when he tendered his resignation was in violation of multiple statutes, including the Open Meetings Act, village code and the Illinois Public Records Act.
Barwin also shared that he believed he was forced to resign to keep from speaking out against a board member’s illicit spending to fund an unnecessary project.
“I believe at least one key elected official who guided the effort was concerned that I would publicly reveal he authorized an expenditure of over $25,000 for a pet project, which was a violation of the village code, and eventually paid after my departure,” Barwin wrote. “He did not want a potential political foe to be aware of this.”
Only five employees, including Barwin’s predecessor, had been permitted by the village of Oak Park to purchase the credits, according to Rowland’s summary judgment. Barwin contended that this supported his breach of contract claim.
“Despite the fact that the last village manager was authorized to purchase pension credits and Oak Park has apparently never denied such a request before Barwin’s, the Court cannot find that this is ‘customary’ or ‘usual’ enough to constitute a ‘practice,’” Rowland wrote in the summary judgment.
It had been 11 years since an employee had asked for authorization to purchase pension credits at the time of Barwin’s request.
Barwin went on to serve as city manager in Sarasota, Florida, after leaving Oak Park. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that he was slated to retire from the role on Dec. 31 of last year.
He told Wednesday Journal that he hoped an appeal would bring “justice” to his case.
“Of all the places I have or could have served, with its history of defending and advancing fairness and equity, Oak Park was the last place I thought a board would act in such an unethical and, as we have learned, an illegal and certainly unfair manner.”