OAK LAWN, IL — The Village of Oak Lawn let go of its fire chief Thursday morning due to “budget constraints.” Michael Mavrogeorge was named chief of fire, rescue and emergency services in 2018. Village officials confirmed Mavrogeorge’s termination, which they attributed to lost revenue caused by the coronavirus shutdown.
“Chief Mavrogeorge did nothing wrong. A difficult budgetary decision was made,” Mayor Sandra Bury said. “It’s a reflection of what residents, small businesses and the greater community are going through.”
In an email to Patch, Randy Palmer, who has been serving dual roles as Oak Lawn’s police chief and acting village manager, said village officials and management looked at numerous options to cut costs to avoid losing staff, including capital expenditures and equipment cuts.
“Unfortunately, the situation has created a need to restructure most of the departments in the village, including police and fire,” Palmer said.
The mayor said that village officials and management held several meetings with the village’s four collective bargaining units, including the fire, police, public works and jail attendant unions, which were “not productive.”
In addition to Mavrogeorge, the village has eliminated some non-union positions, reportedly eight in total, so the village can make it through the loss of revenue it will face in the coming months, and possibly years to come, Palmer said. At the last Oak Lawn Village Board meeting on May 12, trustees and the mayor discussed a budget shortfall ranging from $8 million to $10 million.
“I wish we didn’t have to pay $4 million in overtime to one department,” Bury said, referring to the firefighters’ union. “But it is what it is. The problem is we have so few options because of agreements with the firefighter’s union.”
Bury said the village is seeking help from the federal government in emergency pandemic funds. Asked if the village police chief’s position would be eliminated, she said no, because Palmer was working two jobs, serving as both police chief and acting village manager after Larry Deetjen retired last fall following his involvement in an alleged hit-and-run traffic accident severly injuring a pedestrian.
“I can’t say further cuts won’t happen,” the mayor said.
Oak Lawn Deputy Fire Chief Zachary Riddle will serve as the acting fire chief. According to the 2019 employee compensation report posted on the village website, Mavrogeorge earned a salary of $141,496, or $164,171 including healthcare and other benefits. Riddle’s total compensation package in 2019 was $215,603, which included his $130,987 annual salary.
Mavrogeorge was reportedly taken off guard by the termination of his contract. He was not offered a severance package, but medical insurance coverage was extended to Mavrogeorge and other village employees that have been laid off.
“One of the hardest decisions that has been made is to end the contract with fire chief Michael Mavrogeorge and the Village of Oak Lawn,” Palmer said. “Chief Mavrogeorge … has served the fire department and the community with character and integrity. We thank him for his service and all he has done for the village and the Oak Lawn Fire Department. We wish Chief Mavrogeorge the best in his future endeavors.”