Suburban double dippers hit taxpayers in the wallet

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Several collar county board members are being paid salaries for their work at the same time they also are collecting pensions for the same county board work. Did you know that?

It’s true. And at the moment, it’s perfectly legal, though some Illinois lawmakers are trying to change that and fix what they see as other corruption problems in county governments.

OPINION

More than a dozen county board members in Lake, McHenry, Will and Kane County are being paid both salaries and pensions at the same time for their work as county commissioners. They’ve received as much as $82,124 in annual pension payouts from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund for jobs in which they’re also still getting salaries of between $21,000 and $43,018, according to an analysis by the Daily Herald’s Jake Griffin.

This is happening because of a 2016 law that says county commissioners cannot continue to work toward a pension unless they provide documentation they’re working at least 19 hours a week at that job. Elected officials who did not provide that proof were kicked out of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund but, because they had contributed previously to IMRF, they were able to start collecting their accumulated pensions even though they’re still working, and being paid, as commissioners.

Senate Bill 1236 aims to stop that, along with three other problems that have surfaced in county governments because of a lack of accountability and transparency. Sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Terry Link of Indian Creek, the bill passed the Senate 45-6 last month. It passed 13-3 out of a House committee last week and could get a full House vote soon.

“The pension is a retirement vehicle,” state Rep. Sam Yingling, a Round Lake Beach Democrat, said in an interview. “It’s not something for public officials to use to double dip at the taxpayer trough.”

If Link and Yingling succeed in getting their legislation enacted, elected local officials would be prohibited from receiving a salary or other compensation if they are collecting pension benefits from IMRF for the same job. An official’s salary would be zeroed out at the start of a new term if that official is collecting a pension for the same job.

Several Lake County board members, the Illinois Association of County Board Members, the Illinois State Association of Counties and the Illinois Municipal League all filed witness slips opposing passage of SB 1236 before last week’s committee hearing.

Some lawmakers questioned why the legislation didn’t cut off the pension rather than the salary for officials who are collecting both. Yingling noted people can defer their pension payments if they win re-election to a local office they once held.

Others wondered about scenarios in which a teacher could retire from full-time work, begin collecting a pension, but want to then work part-time or as a substitute.

State Rep. Daniel Didich, a Buffalo Grove Democrat, answered, noting those officials could begin collecting their pensions once they finally quit working at those jobs.

“I think the public is absolutely fed up with this type of behavior and practice in government,” Yingling added. “This is good government to install these protections and measures for taxpayers and I strongly believe in them.”

Other provisions in the legislation would allow for the removal of county board chairs, who are elected to that leadership role by their fellow commissioners by a four-fifths vote of the board. Yingling said that provision was needed after the revelation that former Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor had abused a county credit card and submitted fraudulent charges for reimbursement. Lawlor resigned after the abuses came to light and sought treatment for addiction.

SB 1236 also boosts transparency by requiring that vendors in line for a county contract of more than $30,000 must disclose any family relationships with county officials. Yingling said some vendors in Lake County have been awarded no-bid contracts and then it’s come to light they have relationships with officeholders.

Lastly, the legislation requires county boards to alert new countywide officials that they have the option to ask that a transitional audit be conducted at county expense when they take office.

Lake County Circuit Court Clerk Erin Cartwright Weinstein said she fought with a prior county administrator and board members for months after she took office to try to definitely determine what happened with contracts for an e-filing system that never was completed, even though $4.9 million had been spent on it over a five-year period by her predecessor. County officials since have agreed to pay for an assessment, a less formal form of a forensic audit.

“This bill is a huge step in the right direction to provide accountability and protections to the public against inappropriate spending of taxpayer funds,” she previously told state lawmakers.

Illinois leads the nation in numbers of governments, which makes it that much harder for taxpayers to hold them all accountable. SB 1236 should help if it becomes law.

The public, Yingling said, is “demanding that action be taken to stop rampant fraud and abuse.”

Madeleine Doubek is executive director of CHANGE Illinois, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for political and government reforms.

 

 

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via Chicago Sun-Times http://bit.ly/2xAxGgE

May 13, 2019 at 05:52PM

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