Appellate court reverses dismissal of suit over Lockport fire hiring
By Janet Lundquist email@example.com January 9, 2013 3:18PM
Updated: February 11, 2013 7:30AM
An appellate court has decided that the Lockport Township Firefighters’ Pension Board should hold a formal hearing to determine whether its former chief re-entered fire service by taking a job with the district after “retiring” and drawing a pension.
A group of Lockport firefighters had appealed the dismissal of a complaint they filed in Will County court that claims the retired chief of the township fire department is double-dipping — drawing a six-figure salary as the department’s “administrator” along with a pension.
Robert Cronholm retired as chief of the Lockport Fire Protection District effective Oct. 31, 2009. He began collecting pension payments on Nov. 1, 2009.
He was re-hired by the district effective Nov. 1, 2009, to serve as its chief administrator and collect the same salary he had as chief, $120,000. Cronholm, who still serves as the district’s administrator, could not be reached for comment.
An attorney for the firefighters also could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The decision by the 3rd District Appellate Court in Ottawa, issued Dec. 31, reverses the dismissal of the case and sends it back to Will County court.
Judge Bobbi Petrungaro dismissed the case in January 2012 because she found that the firefighters’ complaint had procedural errors.
But Petrungaro should not have dismissed the firefighters’ complaint because the pension board did not hold a formal hearing before deciding that Cronholm had not re-entered active service, the appellate court said.
At the time of his retirement in 2009, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund rejected Cronholm’s enrollment, saying he was essentially doing the same job he was doing before. The state insurance department agreed.
Nevertheless, the pension board continued its payments to Cronholm. In January 2010, the district restructured the department, changed Cronholm’s duties and planned to hire a new fire chief.
Once the changes were made, the Illinois Department of Insurance told the district that Cronholm’s duties did not equate to re-entering active service.
In April 2010, instead of holding a previously scheduled hearing on whether Cronholm had re-entered fire service, the board voted to accept the state department’s findings that Cronholm had not re-entered service.
The firefighters filed their complaint in May 2010.
In January 2011, the IMRF conducted a hearing to determine Cronholm’s eligibility to participate and found he was not, because his duties “broadly encompass ‘fire protection duties.’”