On March 17, 2016, an Illinois appellate court handed down its decision in a case addressing how a retiring firefighters pension should be calculated. The case is The Village of Chicago Ridge vs. the Chicago Ridge Firefighters Pension Board of Trustees and David Bricker, 2016 IL App (1st) 152089.
In addition to addressing the question of whether this specific firefighter should receive an increase in pension benefit pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, the case also contained language that shows the importance of following literally the language of a statute, and the differences between an ordinance and a resolution.
The firefighter, David Bricker, had asked the Chicago Ridge Firefighters Pension Board to include in his retirement benefits a 20% “buyout” increase in his pension benefits pursuant to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.
The pension board agreed with Bricker’s request, and included the 20% buyout in its calculation of Bricke’rs pensionable salary. The Village of Chicago Ridge disagreed with the calculations, and appealed the Pension Board’s decision to the Cook County Circuit Court.
The Circuit Court ruled that the Pension Board had been incorrect when it concluded that the 20% buyout should have been included in firefighter Bricker’s pension. The appellate court found that the inclusion of the 20% buyout was “clearly erroneous” and held that the 20% buyout should not have been included. The appellate court stated that “the sole issue presented in this appeal is whether the 20% buyout as defined in the collective bargaining agreement should be included in Bricker’s pensionable salary”.
Reading this summary, you may question why Bricker should not receive the pension increase, if it was given to him in the union’s collective bargaining agreement. While the appellate court considered this question, and analyzed various definitions of the term “salary”, the court stated, in part, that: “… we find that answer to whether the 20% buyout… hinges on whether the 20% buyout… was approved through the appropriation ordinance of the municipality”.
The court found that various provisions of Illinois law “… specifically state that any calculation of salary, which is then used to determine pensionable salary, must be approved or established through an appropriation ordinance of the municipality…”. The court found that Bricker’s 20% buyout had not been approved through an appropriation ordinance. The court acknowledged that the salary inclusion had been approved by resolution of the Village Board of Trustees, but held that approval by resolution “… is not the same as being approved through an appropriation ordinance”.
“Where an act is required to be done by ordinance, anything less, such as a resolution or referendum, is not sufficient. A resolution is an act with lesser dignity than an ordinance. Where an act is required to be done by ordinance, a mere resolution is not sufficient”.
One conclusion that can be draws from the case is that statutes sometimes mean exactly what they say, and failure to follow the law exactly can have important consequences.