Ethics questions swirl over Dyer police pension vote

2012-09-14T19:00:00Z 2012-09-16T01:23:58Z Ethics questions swirl over Dyer police pension voteBy Chelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

DYER | Dyer's Town Council president said he intends to press a fellow councilman to abstain from voting on a 17 percent increase in pension benefits for police officers when it comes up for final approval.

Dyer Town Council President Jeff Dekker argues Town Councilman Joe Cinko has a conflict of interest in the vote because Cinko is a Dyer police officer and could one day benefit from the pay increase.

“I think that it's clear that he stands to benefit from this pension plan, and if it's not legally a conflict as defined by law, it certainly is an implied conflict,” Dekker said.

Those concerns came to a head Thursday when Dekker called on Cinko to abstain before the Town Council gave initial approval to the increase.

Cinko said he disagreed with Dekker's claims, saying there is no way to know whether the ordinance will be in place when any current Dyer police officer retires.

Cinko said he spoke with the town's attorney, who advised he was within his legal rights to vote on the ordinance.

"(Dekker) seems to be basing the decision on feelings of conflict of interest," Cinko said. "It's not a legal one."

The Town Council likely will take a final vote on the increase Sept. 27 at a special meeting, Dekker said.

The Dyer Town Council situation illustrates that ethics can have gray areas, said Cal Bellamy, president of the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission, of which Dyer is a member. The commission calls on members to remove themselves from “every decision-making process in which I, my business, my associates or my family may benefit.”

“He is not going to benefit from it immediately, but he might benefit from it in the future,” Bellamy said. “Like I say, it is a gray area.”

The ordinance would increase the minimum pension for police officers by $4,716 to $31,949 annually, according to an analysis by the Dyer Clerk-Treasurer's office. Police officers could receive a higher pension depending on years of service.

The town would pay an additional $48,318 for the increase, with current police officers paying $283 more per year in contributions.

If passed, the ordinance would most immediately increase the pensions of five officers, who are retired but were within the department prior to 1977, and one surviving spouse. All future retirees with at least 20 years of service in the department also would receive the increase.

Clerk-Treasurer Pat Hawrot said the town would have to pay its increase from the current and 2013 police department budgets.

“I wasn't consulted on the financials,” Hawrot said. “My concern is we didn't budget for this.”

At Thursday's Town Council meeting, a Dyer employee said the proposed increase divides the police department from other town employees.

Lily Schiltz said the proposed increase for the retirees hurts, considering town employees have not seen a pay raise or bonus.

“We come to work every day. We work hard,” Schiltz said. “They are retired. They don't work for the town of Dyer anymore, and they just got a big boost.”

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