Special pension deal a windfall for some county officials

Former DuPage County Board member Bill Malo. (Chuck Berman/Tribune)

To thank Bill Maio for his years of public service, his former colleagues on the DuPage County Board named a street after him.

County taxpayers are paying him back in far more lucrative ways.

Capping a career in which he often called for fiscal restraint, the retired Itasca politician now gets a $100,000-a-year pension. That's for 30 years of work — only five of which were full time, the rest as a part-time board member.

Maio is one of 34 formerly elected officials in the Chicago area who cashed in on a generous pension system so controversial that the rules were later tightened.

Several influential DuPage County officials — including Maio — helped bring about the system from which they benefited.

In all, about 750 people in 62 Illinois counties were able to join the most lucrative version of the pension plan for county elected officials. More than 500 have since retired — 17 getting an initial pension of more than $100,000. Five of them were from DuPage County.

Maio arguably got the best deal of them all.

The brash Republican — a onetime Harley-riding private investigator known for lining up votes — contributed just 11 percent of the total cost of his pension. That's the lowest contribution rate of any of the five and far lower than the typical government retiree.

Maio and his supporters say he deserved every dime and saved the county millions. Critics — including the union for some county workers — say it's a classic example of pension excess.

These cases "shed a negative light on public employee pensions, which for 98 percent of the workforce are fair, responsible and reasonable," said Hank Scheff of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Maio's path to his pension offers a window into how elected officials of both parties created a system that, despite reforms, continues to cost taxpayers.

Little debate

Maio, 65, his wife and young child moved to DuPage County in 1972. He quickly joined charities and school boards, and eyed a life in local politics.

Within a decade, he became an Addison Township trustee in a place that was no political backwater.

The township was home to U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde and eventual state Senate President James "Pate" Philip.

Maio became his own brand of DuPage County Republican. He was a colorful, onetime Democrat from Chicago's Southeast Side. An Army veteran who preferred backroom arm-twisting to conducting news conferences. And, early in his career, he raised eyebrows by carrying a gun as a special deputy coroner for natural disasters.

He spent much of his public service jostling for votes on the County Board, to which he was elected in 1984.

The part-time office had its perks, including health insurance. That was good for Maio, who had his own insurance agency and, at times, was a private investigator and ran security at a teen juice bar.

But serving on the board wasn't financially lucrative. By the mid-1990s, it paid about $25,000 a year, with the pension formula of any county worker: Retire at age 60 with 20 years and get 35 percent of your pay. The percentage tops out at 75 percent after 40 years.