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Lawsuit, overtime, comp payouts propel Chicago employees to highest paid list

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $216,210 gross salary didn’t make her the top-paid employee in her city in 2021.

In fact, 296 employees made more than her last year.

But the city of Chicago’s highest-paid employees got to the top through different paths, according to a review of city payroll records over the past three years.

Police Officer Michael Seiser was the top-paid employee in 2021 with gross overall pay of $480,927, more than twice that of the mayor. Seiser’s gross salary was $150,155 in 2020, meaning overtime, cashing out unused sick or vacation time, or other factors contributed to more than tripling his overall pay. The city’s police department referred questions about his pay to the city’s finance department, which didn’t respond. Seiser was not listed as a city employee as of Sept. 8.

The second-highest-paid city employee in 2021 was Carmelita Wiley-Earls, who made $455,529 as a deputy district chief in the fire department. She made $239,465 in overtime in 2021, according to city records. Wiley-Earls made news in 2021 when she told the Chicago Tribune she’d rather be demoted than enforce the city’s vaccine mandate on employees.

Chicago’s total payroll increased by $61.4 million from 2021 to 2019. The city’s total payroll was $3.41 billion in 2021 for 36,239 workers compared to $3.35 billion in 2019 covering 37,520 people.

In 2020, the city’s highest-paid employee was Chicago Police Sgt. Raymond Pierce, who made $430,854. Forbes reported that Pierce received $303,428 for compensatory time payments before he retired.

In 2019, the five top-paid city employees were all members of the fire department who were involved in a 2008 lawsuit filed against the city. The lawsuit claimed the city had incorporated physical ability tests to limit the number of women in the Chicago Fire Department.

The five women involved in that lawsuit received a combined $4 million in 2019 to land atop the city’s list of the highest-paid employees. Michelle Lahalih, a former paramedic with the city, had the highest income at $1.3 million.

This article originally appeared on The Center Square.

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