November 7, 2011 10:57 AM
Is This Township Official Living on Easy Street?
Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli draws dual public salaries, enjoys generous benefits and stands to collect two pensions.
By Andrew Schroedter/BGA with the Chicago Sun-Times
Frank Zuccarelli’s job carries a six-figure salary and an array of benefits, including health care, an annual expense account of nearly $25,000, a 2011 GMC Yukon Denali, a credit card and even a parking spot.
Such perks aren’t unheard of in the private sector, but Zuccarelli isn’t a corporate executive. He’s an elected official, the supervisor of Thornton Township since 1993 – meaning taxpayers are paying for his salary and other benefits.
At a time when numerous Chicago-area residents are out of work and struggling to stay afloat financially, Zuccarelli’s compensation may seem overly generous, another example of a system that too often benefits insiders.
After all, he earns two paychecks from taxpayers – aside from his full-time job at Thornton Township, he holds a part-time position with Cook County government – and stands to collect two public-sector pensions down the road. Several family members also have joined the township payroll under his watch, including a sister, an aunt and a cousin, Zuccarelli confirmed to the Better Government Association.
He is the highest-paid township supervisor in Cook County. But Zuccarelli, 60, says he earns his paycheck.
|Supervisor Zuccarelli was honored with
a street-naming in January 2011.
Not only is Thornton the county’s largest township, covering part or all of 17 south suburbs such as Dolton, Calumet City and South Holland. It provides key social services, including food assistance and job training, to an area ravaged by the recession, he says.
"I do a good job and I’m busy all the time," he says. "The people who live in this township are getting a good bang for their buck."
If he stays on the job, Zuccarelli stands to make even more money.
He currently is paid a salary of $100,800, and his total compensation – excluding health care – will top $140,000 in 2011, according to interviews, and township records obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
His supervisor salary will jump to $128,520, if he’s reelected to a sixth term in 2013, thanks to a resolution quietly passed earlier this year by the township board. He ran unopposed in 2009, and says he plans to run again in 2013.
The township pays for the monthly lease on Zuccarelli’s Denali, as well as his cell phone bill, business-related travel and $24,600 in other expenses that don’t have to be documented.
In addition, he has use of a township credit card that, since Jan. 1, 2010, has charged, among other things, a $1,399 dinner at Springfield’s Chesapeake Seafood House, $1,000 in White Sox tickets, a $988 dinner at Balagio Restaurant in Homewood, a $146 meal at an East Peoria pancake house and a $24 car wash, according to township records obtained under FOIA.
Zuccarelli says he will expense a meal if it’s for township business, as was the case at Chesapeake in November 2010. On that occasion he said he picked up the tab for some state lawmakers whose districts include Thornton. On another occasion, he spent $382 at the restaurant.
The baseball tickets were given to youth committee members, as part of an outreach program, he says. He couldn’t recall the reason he expensed the Balagio meal, and shrugged when asked about the car wash and another curious expenditure: $950 for OnStar, a vehicle security system.
Meanwhile, Zuccarelli is paid $38,530 a year to sit on the Cook County Employee Appeals Board, an obscure panel that handles appeals from non-union county employees who are facing demotion, discharge or suspension. He was appointed to the board by then-Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
If Zuccarelli continues at the county post until his term expires in 2016, he will be vested in the Cook County Pension Fund.
He already is vested in the township's pension program, through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
It’s unclear whether Zuccarelli’s relatives on the township payroll will also receive IMRF pensions.
His sister Candace Paun is a deputy clerk in the township assessor’s office earning $44,972, while his aunt Mary Goley makes $19,547 and his cousin Paula Laven is paid $38,646 for work in the township’s senior services division.
Zuccarelli holds two other non-paying government and political positions: Democratic committeeman in Thornton Township, and chairman of the South Suburban College board. From 2004 to 2009, he worked in the Cook County recorder of deed’s office.
In recent years, the BGA and other good-government advocates have raised questions about the need for township governments, in part because of their free-spending ways, in part because services they provide often are duplicated by other public agencies.
This story was written and reported by BGA investigator Andrew Schroedter. He can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 821-9035.
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