Ill. fire chief terminated to save costs in pandemic
Oak Lawn Fire Chief Michael Mavrogeorge was one of eight employees who lost their jobs as the village faces an $8 million budget hole
The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.
OAK LAWN, Ill. — Facing an estimated $8 million budget hole created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Oak Lawn on Thursday terminated its fire chief as a cost saving measure.
The discharge of Michael Mavrogeorge, one of eight non-union village employees who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, was “one of the hardest decisions that has been made,” acting village manager Randy Palmer said in a statement.
“Village Officials and Management have looked at numerous ways to cut cost to avoid losing personnel, to include Capital expenditures and Capital equipment cuts,” Palmer’s statement said. “Unfortunately, the situation has created a need to restructure most of the departments in the Village, including police and fire.”
Mavrogeorge, who moved to Oak Lawn from the tiny downstate village of New Baden after being named chief in June 2018, said Friday that he wasn’t yet up for talking about his dismissal.
“Just trying to take care of my family and figure out how we are going to survive right now and what will be the next step,” he said in a text message. “I did the best I could for the citizens and the community during my time here.”
Mavrogeorge, who earned a base salary of $141,312 in 2019, will not receive a severance, but will have his health care coverage extended for a period, officials said.
Deputy Fire Chief Zack Riddle, who was sworn in with Mavrogeorge two summers ago, will assume the chief’s responsibilities on an interim basis, Palmer said.
Mayor Sandra Bury said the deputy fire chief position would not be filled.
She called parting ways with Mavrogeorge a very tough and very sad decision, but one that reflected the challenging economic times the country is facing.
“The community has seen significant job losses and business closures,” Bury said. “Every household has been impacted by this pandemic and this village is no different.”
The village also has laid off two executive office secretaries, a building inspector, a police property room employee, a radio room employee, an information technology worker and a part-time worker in the Fire Department over the past 2 ½ months, Bury said.
Nine other workers have been furloughed indefinitely and a villagewide hiring freeze has prevented Oak Lawn from replacing high-ranking staff who retired or hiring dozens of seasonal workers, the mayor said.
Some of the functions the village has historically done in house, such as engineering and health inspections, are likely to be privatized to cut costs, Bury said.
“Pretty much every department has been affected,” she said.
The mayor said officials attempted to work with the village’s four collective bargaining units to come up with ways to reduce costs while avoiding job cuts, but were unable to reach a workable solution.
She said Palmer met with the units on four occasions, but the meetings were unproductive and the unions failed to offer any significant concessions.
“I wish they would understand that in a world where everyone is suffering, it’s OK to say hey, we’re going to help, we’re going to do this and do that, we’re going to get though this,” Bury said.
The president of Oak Lawn’s firefighters union, which for years has had a highly contentious relationship with the village administration, did not respond to a request for comment.
©2020 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.)