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How much do county board members owe? : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
How much do county board members owe?
11 to receive letters soon seeking repayment of per diems

by Matt Schury


It may be a couple more weeks before the public finds out how much past and current Kendall County Board members owe the county in back per diem payments and mileage reimbursements.

Kendall County State's Attorney Eric Weis told the Per Diem Ad Hoc Committee last week that his office would be sending out the demand letters seeking compensation from 11 past and current board members in the "next two weeks-probably-tops," based on his rough estimation.

"We are still in the process of checking all of the information and making sure it's correct," Weis said. "And hope to have those for Ms. (Amy) Cesich's signature here as soon as possible."

In the meantime, the County Board's Per Diem Ad Hoc Committee debated how to change the compensation system for board members ahead of a June 1 deadline so the changes would affect the five County Board members up for election this fall.

The other five board members are in the middle of their terms and will not be up for re-election until 2016 so they wouldn't be covered by new compensation rules in their current terms.

Illinois State Statute says that elected officials cannot set their own salaries while seated in office. If the County Board decided to proceed with changes to begin in 2014 it would mean board members would be on two different systems of compensation, which some County Board members have spoken out against.

Board member Matthew Prochaska was expected to draft the exact County Board agenda items with Wilkins for the board to vote on at their April 1 meeting.

The Per Diem Ad Hoc Committee held another three and a half hour meeting last Thursday debating the finer points of how per diems, mileage reimbursement, health insurance, salaries and IMRF pensions are given to and collected by board members. It was the second such marathon meeting the committee has held since deciding to seek reimbursement from board members for incorrect per diems and mileage collected from 2008 to 2012.

Board members who are set to receive letters include current board members Dan Koukol, Elizabeth Flowers, John Purcell, Jeff Wehrli and Chairman John Shaw. Former board members that will be asked to reimburse the county include Anne Vickery, Bob Davidson, Pan Parr, Jessie Hafenritcher and Suzanne Petrella. The amount those board member collectively owe the county could be as high as $50,000, Weis has said.

Board may vote
on different options

The consensus of the committee members was to eliminate all the benefits board members receive except for out-of-county mileage reimbursement and a salary. In exchange, the board would vote to increase their current $2,400 annual salary to between $8,000 and $18,000.

In doing away with the per diem system the committee then tried to figure out what fair and equitable compensation would be for board members.

Cesich said that if they do away with per diems then the board's base salary should probably increase. Committee members agreed, though they disputed the amount the salaries should increase.

The range the committee members seemed to agree upon for the County Board to discuss was between $8,000 and $18,000.

To get a consensus from the full County Board, Prochaska told the committee he would like them to do something called "approval voting" when presenting their options to the full board. He said this would eliminate the issue getting tossed back to committee because board members might not be comfortable with a salary number.

Under the system Prochaska proposed, the board would first vote on increasing their salary to $8,000. If that amount failed they would increase the amount by $2,000 until they got to $18,000 or reached a consensus. Prochaska said he believes this to be the easiest way to pass something. If no consensus were reach the issue would most likely go back to the per diem ad hoc committee for further discussion.

"If option 'A' passed first, we wouldn't vote any further ... we're done," Prochaska said.

Prochaska noted that the voting could be over quickly if everyone agrees with the low end. Board member Scott Gryder wondered aloud how quickly a consensus could be formed.

"So if everyone agreed to serve for a bowl of Wheaties, then we'd be done?" Gryder said.

Prochaska explained that changing some benefits can be done by resolution, which passes on a simple majority vote. For instance, requiring board members to contribute for their own health insurance benefits would require a resolution. Changing the amount board members can receive for claiming a per diem can be done by passing a resolution.

However, doing away with per diem payments completely would require changing the board's rules of order, which requires a supermajority of the board or seven members voting to approve the change.

Removing mileage reimbursement as benefit would also require a supermajority to pass.

The committee also debated if having board members on a salary was fair since some board members sit on many committees while other sit on only a few.

Board member Judy Gilmour, who sits on over 20 committees, said she wasn't against going to a salary system of pay but noted that it might not be fair if board members are getting paid the same but they aren't doing the same amount of work.

"I think the only fair way to do it, the way we are structured right now, is the salary and the per diems because it's the only way that addresses the amount of work that various board members do," Gilmour said.

She added she would like to see the board sort out its committee system before they make such a change.

The County Board has 11 standing committees and some members serve on other committees outside the county. The County Board has talked about streamlining and restructuring the committee system but hasn't made any changes yet.

Gryder has said he thinks the per diem system needs to be completely scrapped.

"I've been consistently in favor of a straight salary in light of everything that we have gone through, everything that we have reviewed. So much of it is open to interpretation," Gryder said.

"I don't need compensation ... it has zero bearing on me serving," he said.

Board member Lynn Cullick agreed with Gryder that they needed to make a major change to the way board members are compensated.

"When I said I was in favor of overhauling the system I meant the entire system, which could balance these committee assignments and could possibly combine some committees to make this a little more even or fair," Cullick said.

She added that with the per diem system, it doesn't matter how much they try to anticipate or how many rules they put in place there will still be "gray area" when it comes to members collecting compensation that way.

Mileage could stay
status quo if it's kept

If the board decides to keep mileage reimbursements as a perk, the committee didn't feel the way it is collected should change.

Board members can collect reimbursements for "in-county mileage" for driving to and from their homes or office to the place of their meeting in Kendall County as well as driving to meetings outside Kendall County. The committee talked about changing the starting point the board members began their mileage at either their place of residence or the County Office Building in downtown Yorkville but couldn't come to a consensus.

Gryder, who works in Chicago, pointed out that while he doesn't collect mileage for coming to county meetings he could charge the county for mileage, under the current system to drive from his office to Yorkville.

Cesich said that she wanted to get rid of in-county mileage.

"Do you have the mileage for other elected officials, I just wonder how we compare to other groups?" Gilmour asked.

County Treasurer Jill Ferko said that she didn't know of any other elected officials who collected mileage for driving from their homes to their county offices.

"I'm not turning in mileage to go to work," Ferko said.

Ferko added that she only turned in mileage if she is traveling out of county for a conference or meeting or if she is making a bank run from the county office building.

Gryder said that he didn't think "bad mileage" was a big concern in the audit and Ferko agreed.

"I don't see that as a concern," Ferko said. "There are very few of you that are currently taking it."

Weis has told the committee that he would like to have more proof of how they are calculating mileage. The committee also discussed possible changes to how vouchers are turned in and how the county can keep better track of attendance.

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