A suburban firefighters pension board votes to buy members iPads.
A suburban township board finds a loophole to keep a resident's request to vote on health care coverage for elected officials off the upcoming annual town meeting agenda.
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And Secretary of State Jesse White's office blames a major credit card company for drivers not being able to use that particular card at the state's 138 driver's-license facilities.
Once again, investigating readers' tips, suggestions and questions has yielded some interesting results. Sometimes, those tips lead to full columns. Other times, the answers to those queries don't require lengthy explanations. From time to time, they're presented as something that we like to call watchdog kibble. Here's the latest helping.
Is there an app for that?
Almost since Apple launched the iPad two years ago, government boards have tried to get their hands on the costly tablet, usually to the chagrin of taxpayers who don't understand why a school board, city council or any other public commission would need one at their expense.
The latest attempt to secure the flashy devices comes from the Hoffman Estates Firefighters Pension Board. The unpaid five-member panel, made up of two current firefighters and one retired firefighter appointed by their brethren as well as two residents appointed by the mayor, voted 3-2 at a February meeting to purchase the iPads at a total cost not to exceed $3,000.
But now they might be having second thoughts.
"None have been purchased at this time," said Kevin O'Donnell, a Hoffman Estates firefighter and president of the pension board who voted in favor of the purchase. "I think we're going to look into other options."
The board's next meeting is later this month and O'Donnell didn't expect any action before then.
The pension program is funded by both contributions by firefighters and tax dollars from the municipality. It is valued at about $18.2 million, according to minutes from the February meeting.
Robert Gorvett was one of the board members who voted against the purchase. While he opposed buying the devices at all, he was particularly disturbed about a specific caveat in the measure that would have allowed the devices to become personal property of the board members if they served more than one year.
The iPads "certainly have a benefit in this day and age, but I do not believe it's an inappropriate purchase with taxpayers' money," he said. "For the limited number of meetings we have, it's just not justifiable."
The board meets about four times a year to go over the fund's financial details. It's worth noting that iPads do not come equipped with a calculator function.
Firefighter Dave Leslie was the other board member to vote against the purchase.
The board's attorney, Stanley Jakala, said there was nothing illegal about purchasing the devices, but giving them to members who served more than a year required him to "check on that."
"You can't give away government property. And if you can, you shouldn't. It's crazy," said Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod. "Any monies that the pension board spends that is not related to the pensioners is money I believe is not going to the right purpose."
So what made the board members believe they needed the iPads?
"We've seen iPads used on other boards and it makes accessing the Internet and taking classes and reading articles much easier," O'Donnell said.
Michael Hennessy believes the three Wauconda Township elected officials receiving free health care benefits should pay something for that perk.
The township's elected supervisor, assessor and highway commissioner all receive free health care coverage, according to 2010 data provided by the township that shows taxpayers spent nearly $56,000 that year to provide coverage for them.
So Hennessy drafted a petition to get an agenda item placed on the township's annual meeting next Tuesday that seeks to have residents who attend the meeting vote whether they want to place an advisory referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot to gauge opinions about having elected officials contribute to their health care costs. Hennessy said the process was already complicated, but it got a little more so thanks to the township board's recent actions.
"It stinks like a fish in the sun," he said.
The board must approve the annual meeting agenda well in advance of the actual meeting next Tuesday.
The board was initially scheduled to vote on the annual meeting's agenda on March 21, a meeting date that had been on the books for more than a year, according to township officials. But when the meeting date came up, three of the trustees -- 60 percent of the board's voting bloc -- were on vacation.
The meeting was rescheduled to March 26 and only Supervisor Glenn Swanson and trustees Sheryl Ringel and Gary Thompson showed up. It's unclear why trustees John Amrich and Mary Schorr were absent because the township refused to provide minutes from the meeting. None of the elected board members responded to interview requests.
At the March 26 meeting, the question of the annual meeting's agenda came up as well as Hennessy's request to add an item to it. Ringel voted to include Hennessy's question on the agenda, Thompson voted against it and Swanson abstained, according to an email the township clerk sent to Hennessy. It was deadlocked, so they approved the agenda without Hennessy's question.
Township attorney John Ridgway said he never advised Swanson to abstain.
"The supervisor felt the request was something that affected him personally and something he should not vote on," Ridgway said. "I would say that based on what (the vote was on) there would have at least been the appearance of impropriety."
Others don't agree with that assessment.
The vote was not on whether to keep the benefits. "It was whether or not to place the question on the ballot for township-eligible voters, so that in and of itself is not a legal conflict," said Terry Pastika, an attorney and executive director of the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center. "He should have voted on the question and there may be a legal issue with not putting the question on the ballot given the rules of procedure."
Hennessy said he plans to attend the meeting next Tuesday and seek to have the item placed on the agenda at that time. Ridgway refused to assist Hennessy's efforts, claiming a "conflict of interest" as the township board's attorney. He suggested Hennessy get his own lawyer "to make sure he gets things done properly."
Cash is king at DMV
If you're heading to any of the state's 138 driver's license facilities, bring cash if you're a Visa credit card holder.
That's because the facilities don't accept Visa. All other major credit cards are welcome, but not the nation's credit card market share leader.
Officials in Secretary of State Jesse White's office blame Visa, and conversely Visa blames White's office.
It all comes down to the roughly 2 percent "convenience" fee. The two sides can't agree on how to impose the fee.
Visa wants the state to eat the fee. Visa spokesman Ted Carr says, "We do not believe that consumers should have to pay an extra fee just to use their credit or debit cards, especially at a time when many Americans are already facing the challenges of a difficult economy. It is unfair and wrong."
Elizabeth Kaufman, a spokeswoman for White's office, said Visa actually wants a cut of all purchases. "The fee is imposed by Visa and other credit card companies. We believe it's unfair for customers who may not even have a credit card to pay the cost of other credit card users."
Many Visa cardholders find out the hard way at the facilities, despite a barrage of signs warning them. None of the facilities is outfitted with ATMs, either.
"It's not as easy as partnering with a bank and putting an ATM out there," said Henry Haupt, another Secretary of State's office spokesman.
However, Visa is accepted by the Secretary of State's office if motorists are paying online or by phone. That's because banks handle those charges and just pay White's office what is owed, handling any convenience fee on their own. Go figure.
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