William Peterson was a school administrator. Now, he makes $106,000 a year as the Vernon Township supervisor.
Christina Campos worked in the Girl Scouts organization. Now, she's the Aurora Township supervisor making $86,864.
Suzanne Simpson's background was in landscaping. Now, her salary is $81,700 annually as the Warren Township supervisor.
All three are self-described full-time suburban township supervisors at the high end of a wildly varying payscale among 50 suburban townships surveyed throughout six counties. At the bottom of the pack are five township supervisors in western Kane County who make between $7,800 and $15,000.
"The work that a supervisor does is so unclear that it doesn't surprise me that there's such a vast array of compensation scales," said Emily Miller, the policy and government affairs coordinator for the Chicago-based Better Government Association. "It disappoints me, but it doesn't surprise me."
It's a job that has little in the way of requirements. There are no educational or professional credentials necessary to be elected township supervisor. Most supervisors have very few codified duties outside of presiding over monthly meetings. The pay rate is often determined arbitrarily, voted on by the board and supervisor just before each new term. "We look at the (consumer price index) and inflation and hash it out in a board meeting," Simpson said. "You try to make it attractive enough."
Supervisors like Simpson argue the job is what someone is willing to make of it. Simpson points to the 82-acre township government campus, 50 employees, youth football and softball programs, two teen centers, playgrounds and skate park she oversees.
"We're as different from one another as fingerprints," Simpson said of comparing townships. "We have 65,000 people we serve here and we try to do our best without duplicating services with other governments."
But critics contend that philosophy allows elected officials to inflate their worth and, in turn, their salaries.
"This was intended to be a part-time job when it was originally designed," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat. "Are there good supervisors? Most definitely. Are they serving the public? Most definitely. But there are some supervisors making a low, insignificant wage that I believe was the intent of that job."
Link failed to get footing for a bill proposing consolidation of some levels of government last legislative session. It was mainly opposed by townships. He believes voters should hold townships more accountable for their spending, particularly when it comes to elected officials' salaries.
Of the 50 townships surveyed in suburban Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, township supervisors in Lake County are generally the best compensated. The 11 townships surveyed in Lake County have an average supervisor salary of $67,392. The average salary among eight township supervisors in Northwest suburban Cook County is $32,179, and the nine supervisors in DuPage County average a $55,165 salary.
Simpson and Peterson are township supervisors in Lake County. Four other supervisors in Lake County are in the top 10 salaries among the surveyed townships.
Peterson has been supervisor in Vernon Township for 34 years and has the only six-figure salary among the 50 supervisors surveyed. He said his township is one of the most densely populated in the county, which adds to the complexity of the office. He's been challenged only twice in nine elections, most recently in 2009.
"My salary was an issue in the election and I still got 58 percent of the vote," he said.
Some salaries for supervisors have been cut in recent years, mainly after longtime supervisors announced they weren't going to seek another term. In DuPage County's Naperville Township, the salary was cut in half ahead of the 2009 election. First-term Supervisor Gary Vician will make $46,000 this year. He was one of the trustees who voted to cut the post's pay before he was elected supervisor.
"It wasn't looking like it needed the type of time put into it that demanded that type of salary," he said.
Aurora Township Trustee Bill Catching said the supervisor's salary has been an issue for years in the Kane County township. Campos is the supervisor there now and is in the middle of her first term after spending the previous four years as a trustee. Her salary is the second-highest of the 50 surveyed.
"This is a 24/7 job for me," Campos said.
The supervisor's salary was an issue during the past several elections, though it's never been lowered, Catching said.
"To be honest, it's high," Catching said of Campos' salary. "It should pay a salary to attract a qualified candidate. Is $87,000 high? Yeah, that's awfully high."