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Ex-Chicago Ridge police chief’s pay soared under disability deal

New Lenox Mayor Timothy Baldermann  |  Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

New Lenox Mayor Timothy Baldermann | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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What ex-chief GETS

Former Chicago Ridge police Chief Timothy A. Baldermann gets a total of more than $274,000 a year from three government agencies. A breakdown:

$129,192

Tax-free disability pay — which is about $20,000 more than he was paid as chief.

$127,000

Yearly salary from Union School District 81, a 110-student district in Joliet where he started as superintendent in June.

$18,000

Annual salary as part-time mayor and liquor commissioner of New Lenox.

Sources: Village of Chicago Ridge, Union School District 81, village of New Lenox

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Updated: October 19, 2012 6:03AM



The day he left his job as Chicago Ridge police chief to go on disability, Timothy A. Baldermann got a big raise.

Baldermann walked away with disability pay of $129,192 a year — nearly $20,000 more than he made as police chief for the southwest suburb.

Baldermann, 46, is due to collect more than $2 million in disability pay by the time he turns 60 for the back injury he reported suffering while loading a body into a police van four years ago, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found.

After he turns 60, he will see his disability pay soar by 48 percent, to $191,204. Each year after that, it will go up by another $3,876.

His disability pay — all tax-free — is the highest the Sun-Times has found in its investigation into police and firefighter disability benefits paid out by cash-strapped public pension systems financed largely by taxpayers.

Chicago Ridge village officials made it possible by agreeing, among other things, to calculate Baldermann’s disability pay in part based on vacation time he had accumulated but never used, as well as by giving him a 20 percent raise on his last day on the job before he stepped down as chief in 2010.

Now, they want to revisit the generous deal they gave him.

Not a chance, says Baldermann.

The former chief — who has moved on to a new government career, starting in June as the $127,000-a-year superintendent of the tiny, 110-student Union School District 81 in Joliet, in addition to his part-time, $18,000-a-year elected post as mayor of New Lenox — is suing the Chicago Ridge police pension board to block it from cutting his benefits.

“All of this was done in the light of day,” says Baldermann, who went on disability leave at age 43, nearly two years after being injured. “There was nothing . . . sneaky or undercover. If they shouldn’t have done it, they shouldn’t have done it. But they did.”

The money comes from the police pension fund, into which Baldermann paid $137,933 during his 22 years with the suburb’s police department, records show. He’s set to collect more than $5 million in disability pay from the fund by the time he turns 75.

There’s a cost to taxpayers for deals like these. Last year, Chicago Ridge property taxpayers paid $1 million into the police pension fund — about $72 for each of the municipality’s 14,366 residents. That amount has more than doubled since 2005, when taxpayers paid $392,196 into the police pension fund.

Baldermann’s injury dates to June 22, 2008. He and another Chicago Ridge cop were carrying the body of a 17-year-old girl, found dead at the home of an acquaintance, down the stairs from the second-floor porch of a home, using a backboard. Baldermann, who was walking backward, leading the way down the stairs, said he felt a sharp pain in his low back.

Baldermann filed an injury report the next day.

He didn’t seek treatment until more than a year later, on July 16, 2009, saying he was experiencing increased lower-back pain, as well as problems with his right hip, according to Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission records.

He underwent surgery for a herniated disc in November 2009 and had a cadaver bone and titanium bracket placed in his back.

Baldermann continued to work. But his doctors told him he could no longer do the kinds of physical tasks that police officers are sometimes required to do, like kicking in doors.

“I was a working police chief. I even worked the street on a regular basis because that was just me,” says Baldermann, who won the Republican primary for the 11th District congressional seat in February 2008 but dropped out of the race later that month, saying he was too busy already being Chicago Ridge police chief and New Lenox mayor.

He says he offered to “change the way I operate” and stay on as chief but was turned down by the police pension board.

He also says he explored working in an administrative post in village government but that Chicago Ridge Mayor Eugene Siegel turned him down, saying he wouldn’t create a job for him.

Asked about that, Siegel says only, “This is my first time hearing that.”

Baldermann went on disability on April 29, 2010, nearly two years after his back injury.

He also filed an injury claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, which last year awarded him $127,230. Under state law, Chicago Police officers and firefighters cannot file such claims.

Baldermann was able to leave his post as police chief and go on disability with a pay raise because of several provisions in a 2005 work agreement that had the effect of raising his salary by 82 percent on his final day on the job.

He has health insurance through his wife, who is the principal of a New Lenox school. So he agreed not to accept health insurance at no charge from Chicago Ridge. In exchange for that, the village board agreed to pay him $56,260 for unused vacation days.

The village board also gave Baldermann a 20 percent “retirement” bonus — basing the amount of that bonus on his combined salary and the amount it paid him for the unused vacation time. That put his final salary at $198,756.

That’s the salary figure the police pension board used when it approved Baldermann’s disability claim, awarding him 65 percent of that, or $129,192, in yearly disability pay.

Baldermann — who is paid more than any other retired or disabled member of the police department — says Chicago Ridge has given similar vacation buybacks and bonuses to a half dozen police officers who retired. Baldermann is the only officer on disability who got such a deal.

Two weeks after Baldermann got his first disability check, members of the police pension fund asked for a review of his benefits.

Nick Cetwinski, the village’s labor lawyer, asked state officials for an opinion. The answer: Pay for accumulated, unused vacation should not be included in calculating an officer’s disability pay or pension.

Based on that, village officials concluded Baldermann’s disability pay should be $85,309 ­a year — 34 percent less than what he’s getting.

In November 2010, the pension board was set to consider reducing the benefits awarded to Baldermann and to Dennis Kapelinski, a deputy chief who retired a month after Baldermann left the department and saw his pension boosted by a similar vacation incentive and bonus. But Baldermann and Kapelinski sued, arguing it was too late to reconsider their benefits. That case is still pending in Cook County Circuit Court.

Illinois law requires yearly medical exams for all disabled police officers outside the city of Chicago until age 50 to see whether they’re able to return to work. But the pension fund hasn’t called Baldermann in to be examined, blaming his ongoing lawsuit.

In addition to his government posts, Baldermann is president of D & B Consultants and Security Inc., and has helped with security for Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, who calls him “a great friend” and says he turns to him for recommendations when he’s in town and needs security.

“I ask him what guys would he recommend if I need someone,” says Wade.

Baldermann acknowledges that his disability pay is “substantial.”

“I’ve given up an awful lot for it,” he says, pointing to the back problems he says have gotten worse and probably will need more surgery. “I’ve given up more than other people who got the same benefits that I got.”



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