Joliet not only has been paying fired police officer Brian Nagra since he was fired Jan. 11 but also is improving his potential pension payout.
The time being taken to bring the cases of Nagra and officer Lionel Allen to a hearing was the focus of a fiery dispute this week at a meeting of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.
Both Nagra and Allen continue to be paid while awaiting a hearing before the board, which still could be months away. Nagra also is nearing the 20-year mark of service, at which time he would be eligible to begin collecting 10 additional years of pension even if his termination is upheld by the board.
State law and the Joliet board’s own rules appear to provide for a hearing within 30 days after a police officer is fired by the chief.
However, interim City Attorney Chris Regis said court rulings on the statute make it prudent to give the officers time to prepare their cases and continue paying them.
“If you want to change that, you have to change the state law,” Regis said Thursday.
Nagra not only continues to collect on his annual pay of $106,770, but he also earns time as he approaches a key point in his future pension benefits.
On June 17, Nagra will have been on the Joliet police force for 20 years.
That should allow him to collect on his pension at age 50. If he was off the payroll before then, Nagra likely would have to wait until 60 to collect on his pension.
Regis said Nagra’s potential pension boost is not a concern for the city.
“That’s the pension board. It has nothing to do with the city,” he said.
The Police Pension Board oversees the administration of pension payments to officers.
However, the city does kick in to the pension funds along with police officers. State law requires that the funds come out of property taxes, and $30.5 million now goes to the police and fire pensions.
Nagra has not returned calls for comment. Joliet Police Pension Board President Brian Prochaska said he could not comment on Nagra’s pension status.
“We haven’t been presented with anything from Brian Nagra in respect to him filing for retirement,” he said.
But Prochaska said the state pension system allows police officers to collect half their pay at age 50 if they no longer are on the job and have put in 20 years of service. Anything less than 20 years, and the officer would have to wait until 60 to begin collecting and would get a fraction less than half-pay.
Getting fired after that won’t disqualify Nagra for a pension.
The only factor that disqualifies police from their pensions, Prochaska said, “is if they were convicted of a felony for anything committed on duty.”
City and police officials have not said what led to Nagra’s dismissal, although sources have said it is related to payroll misrepresentation.
Two police supervisors have been disciplined in relation to Nagra’s activities.
Sgt. Patrick Cardwell, president of the police supervisors' union, said it was those disciplinary actions against his members that led him to criticize the time being taken to bring the cases to the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.
In an email sent to a long list of city officials and employees, Cardwell called it “neglectful of this board not to recognize the police discipline cases” and said “the entire discipline process with this board has been compromised.”
Board Chairman Herb Lande and fellow board member Todd Wooten questioned and criticized Cardwell for more than an hour at the board’s Monday meeting. Lande even threatened to bring Cardwell back to the board to face accusations of misconduct raised by the head of the police patrol officer’s union, which is representing Nagra and Allen.
Lande and Wooten said the board had done nothing wrong because it had yet to get the charges against the two officers.
Cardwell said he was doing his job as a union representative to get some answers on why the 30-day rule has not been applied.
The board’s rules, written to mirror state law, say that the police chief may suspend an officer with or without pay for 30 days pending a hearing by the police board, which is to occur 30 days after the charges are filed.
Police Chief Al Roechner and Deputy Chief John Perona were asked by Lande if they were “shocked” to learn the charges had never been presented to the board. Both said they were shocked because they had filed the papers they thought were needed to get a hearing on the terminations in 30 days.
Regis said there are no charges until he files them with the board.
In the meantime, he said, the city must give the officers their due process rights to prepare for the hearing so that if the board upholds the termination it will stand up to future challenges.
“We’re going to err on the extreme,” Regis said, “because we don’t want the city exposed to any more liability.”