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updated: 6/10/2011 6:12 AM

DuPage native son does us proud as tax watchdog

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The joke around the newsroom goes something like this: "OK, who in DuPage is Jake gonna skewer next?"

That's Jake Griffin, who formerly covered DuPage County government from our office in Lisle. Last year, Jake was promoted to a job at our flagship offices in Arlington Heights that included government watchdog reporting.

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Last month, as part of numerous new features we've unveiled in the Daily Herald, Jake began writing his Suburban Tax Watchdog column. Here's a rundown of his work:

• Wednesday's column chronicled how 17 former DuPage County Board members, retired from the part-time jobs, are receiving pensions averaging $45,627, or a total payout of $775,665. That almost doubles the average pension among the next-highest county that participated in a special retirement program set up for county elected officials in 1997.

• On June 1, Jake took on the topic of township highway commissioners. Guess what? The highest-paid highway bosses come from DuPage. In fact, four of the top five salaries in the state can be found in DuPage. Here's the list:

1. Joe Jedlovec, Winfield Township: $102,347.

2. James Plumb, Bloomingdale Township: $97,320.

3. Donald Kopsell, Nunda Township: $90,225.

4. Gary Muehlfelt, Milton Township: $89,530.

5. Andy Anderson, Downers Grove Township: $89,000.

Jake also pointed out the number of miles of road each township highway czar is responsible for. To find out who's faring the best under that yardstick, one needs to go a little north of DuPage, into Elk Grove Township, where Highway Commissioner Charles Serchuk makes $45,866 for maintaining a little more than four miles of roads.

• On May 25, our tax watchdog reminded readers about the hubbub over the contract of former Wheaton Warrenville District 200 Superintendent Gary Catalani, who left the district and took a superintendent's post in Arizona, while also collecting a yearly pension of about $250,000. During his tenure, a resident successfully sued for a copy of Catalani's contract, but not before the case reached the state supreme court. It has been cited as helping spark stronger public access laws.

But, as Jake pointed out, a year and a half after those reforms were enacted, turns out the government itself has been the main user of the Illinois Attorney General's Public Access Office. The office says 63 percent of its caseload involves requests by governments seeking the OK to deny Freedom of Information Act requests.

• May 18, Jake examined township assessors' pay. In looking at 50 suburban townships, he discovered all nine assessors in DuPage appear in the top 10 list of pay, with five of them making six-figure salaries.

• And in his inaugural column on May 11, Jake noted the assistant superintendent of Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 is paid $340,000, more than his boss. What does this have to do with DuPage County, you ask? Well, kids in the Cook County portion of Roselle, a predominantly DuPage community, attend District 54 schools.

Now, it is with a mixture of awe and apprehension that our staff watches Jake expose these excesses of government. But the fact is we have to deal with many elected officials, who may be under the impression we're coming after them with unremitting zeal.

But the fact of the matter is this: Jake's columns have been dead-on accurate, he always has gotten his subjects' side of the story, or made multiple efforts when they didn't return calls. They've been about more than just what somebody makes. In short, they've been fair.

So, will Jake continue to target exclusively elected leaders in DuPage? Probably not.

But for his initial efforts, we in the DuPage office are proud of our native son. Very proud.

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