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updated: 7/15/2012 6:30 AM

Palatine officials join trend of forgoing pensions

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The pool of elected officials participating in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund has been shrinking as eligibility requirements continue to come under increased scrutiny.

The latest officials to forgo their pension benefits are Palatine's mayor and council members, who last month unanimously approved the move despite annual contributions costing the village just $11,400 annually.

Councilman Aaron Del Mar, also Palatine Township's Republican committeeman and the Cook County GOP chairman, made a fervent statement at the time urging other local governments to follow suit.

"I believe we're setting a positive example for other elected offices to do the same and hope that many will no longer look at public office as a job and start looking at it simply as a civic duty," Del Mar said.

Del Mar didn't mention that Palatine earlier this year became one of the nearly 500 government agencies that have been audited since 2007.

IMRF launched the effort to try to ensure elected officials are meeting its requirement they put in 1,000 hours of work, or nearly 20 hours a week, related to their post each year.

IMRF spokeswoman Linda Horrell said Palatine's audit began in February and remains open.

"Through that process, the council went back and reviewed their involvement in village activities," Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen said. "They determined it was appropriate to stop (their participation)."

According to a Daily Herald analysis of IMRF records, about 540 elected offices in the Daily Herald's coverage area of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties are allowed to participate in the plan through a municipal or township resolution. The IMRF counts an entire board as one office.

Of those offices, only about one-third of elected positions are enrolled. Many employers don't have a resolution that allows the city's elected officials to sign up for the pension plan.

Horrell said audits, which are random, often find employers are confused about eligibility requirements.

If an auditor believes certain officials aren't meeting the 1,000-hour minimum, Horrell said the IMRF reviews the employer's procedures and asks members to either document their time or sign an affidavit swearing they meet the standard. It doesn't require members to actually track the time they spend working.

"It can be a felony if we find they're lying to us," Horrell said.

One group of officials unwilling to sign an affidavit after a 2010 audit was the Palatine Township board, which typically meets just once a month.

"Trustees absolutely don't work 20 hours a week," Trustee Sharon Langlotz-Johnson said. "It (the pension plan) cost the township money that it shouldn't, so we stopped."

That particular IMRF audit focused only on the board and not the elected township assessor, supervisor or road commissioner since those can be full-time positions, Horrell said.

In Hoffman Estates, officials decided trustees and the mayor could opt into the pension system about 10 years ago, though not everyone signed up.

Mayor Bill McLeod, who does participate, said there's no doubt he averages at least 20 hours of work each week, considering all the meetings he attends, village events, time in Springfield and his involvement in the Northwest Municipal Conference.

"It is self-policing, but obviously we all have calendars," McLeod said. "I know I meet (the minimum), and I presume the other (trustees) do or at least believe they do."

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