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Time to do away with county per diems : Editorials : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Time to do away with county per diems

As we report this week Kendall County State's Eric Weis has recommended to the county board's ad hoc per diem committee that some of the per diem and mileage reimbursements paid to 11 current and former county board members over the past few years be re-paid to the county. Meanwhile, a grand jury is continuing to investigate the board members for possible civil and/or criminal charges in connection with the possible abuse of the per diems and mileage reimbursements.

County taxpayers should be aware that the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to board members are involved in the state's attorney's investigation. According to the county treasurer's office, a forensic audit shows the 11 board members received in excess of $640,000 in stipends, per diem payments and salaries between 2008 and 2012.

Weis told the board's ad hoc per diem committee last Thursday that his office's nearly two-year investigation has found numerous instances where the 11 board members violated the county's rules on collecting per diems. Those violations included board members claiming per diems for a second meeting on the same day and doubling billing where some board members were paid twice for attending the same meeting.

The ad hoc per diem committee is currently facing the taunting task of determining which per diem payments should be re-paid by the 11 board members while also devising strict new policies to prevent current and future board members from abusing the per diem and mileage reimbursement payments.

We applaud Weis and the auditors retained by his office for their work on the investigation to date and we were pleased the ad hoc per diem committee agreed to conduct their meeting last Thursday with Weis in an open session. (Under the Illinois Open Meetings Act the committee had the option of closing the session and shutting the public out.)

We also continue to believe the county's taxpayers would be best served by doing away with per diems and mileage reimbursements as quickly as possible. In their place, board members should receive only very modest annual salaries.

Eliminating the per diems and mileage reimbursements altogether will serve to significantly reduce the workload of the ad hoc per diem committee in the coming weeks and months. In addition, staff in the county treasurer's office will be relieved of the time-consuming chore of continually reviewing each per diem and mileage reimbursement voucher to determine if it satisfies whatever new criteria would have to be put in place. But most importantly eliminating per diems and mileage reimbursements will serve to prevent the possibility of further abuse by board members and save county taxpayers money.

Some, perhaps a majority, of board members may not support giving up these perks. But we would remind them that board service is a part-time job and their focus should be on serving the public, first and foremost. We do not think it is a wise use of taxpayer funds to pay county board members to fuel their vehicles so they can attend board meetings to collect per diems on top of their monthly salaries and taxpayer-provided health insurance.

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