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updated: 10/16/2012 3:54 PM

Compensation divides DuPage forest preserve candidates

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Candidates in the races to fill six seats on the DuPage County Forest Preserve Commission differ on whether existing commissioners went far enough to lower their pay.

Meanwhile, several hopefuls are vowing not to take a pension if they are elected to the part-time positions.

The issue of compensation was discussed during recent Daily Herald endorsement interviews with all the candidates seeking spots on the forest preserve commission during the Nov. 6 general election. With the exception of the president's post, all board seats on the commission are up for election.

Incumbent Commissioner Joseph Cantore pushed for a May decision that reduced commissioners' annual salaries from nearly $57,000 to $53,500. At the time, the Oak Brook Republican urged his fellow commissioners to cut their pay to $50,000, roughly equal to the annual salary of DuPage County Board members.

But even Cantore's suggested pay cut didn't go deep enough, according to his Democratic opponent in the District 2 race. The district includes all or parts of Clarendon Hills, Downers Grove, Elmhurst, Hinsdale, Lisle, Lombard, Oak Brook, Oakbrook Terrace, Villa Park, Westmont and Woodridge.

Donald Kirchenberg of Downers Grove said one of his top campaign goals is to slash the annual salary to $25,000. If the pay was reduced, he said, the district would be able to spend more money on acquiring land and running additional programs.

Kirchenberg also said he believes it's wrong for commissioners to get a pension. Cantore said he tried several years ago to give up his publicly funded retirement benefit but was denied.

Commissioners aren't required to enroll in the pension program. But once they do, they can't withdraw unless they leave office. "Once you are in it, you can't get out," Cantore said.

That's why Steve Leopoldo, the Democratic challenger in District 3, says he won't sign up for the pension if he defeats incumbent Republican Linda Painter of Hinsdale.

"Illinois has enough pension debt," said Leopoldo, a Westmont resident. "I will not add to our burden."

However, District 1 incumbent Marsha Murphy, a Republican, said candidates who claim commissioners shouldn't get a pension for a part-time job usually change their tune after they are elected.

"Once they see what is involved and the things they do (as a commissioner), they may change their mind and see that it does take more time," said Murphy, who is facing Democratic challenger Michael Braun. "They don't see everything that we do and everything that we accomplish."

Painter says she's putting in the minimum 1,000 hours a year required to be eligible for the publicly funded pension.

"There's so many subtle things that you can't even begin to put down in hours," Painter said. "We're all constantly talking about the forest preserve. We're promoting the forest preserve."

District 3 includes all or parts of Bolingbrook, Burr Ridge, Clarendon Hills, Darien, Downers Grove, Hinsdale, Lemont, Naperville, Westmont, Willowbrook and Woodridge. District 1 includes all or parts of Addison, Bensenville, Elmhurst, Itasca, Lombard, Roselle, Villa Park and Wood Dale.

In the District 4 race, Democrat Robert Flesvig said he believes commissioners are getting paid too much -- even after the most recent salary cut. His Republican opponent, Tim Whelan, disagrees.

"I think the pay is appropriate for the job," said Whelan, adding that he intends to put "a good amount of time" into the issues facing the district.

While the two Wheaton residents don't agree about the pay, they both said they would accept the pension.

District 4 includes all or parts of Addison, Carol Stream, Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Glendale Heights, Lombard, Winfield and Wheaton.

Another pair of non-incumbents in the District 5 race said they won't take the pension and will do everything they can to further reduce commissioners' pay.

Democrat Dennis Clark of Winfield is suggesting the salary be slashed to $24,000. The Republican in the race, Naperville's Mary Lou Wehrli, stressed any attempt to cut pay again is going to need commission support.

"I'd have to see what's likely to get passed," Wehrli responded when asked what the salary should be. "I could go in there on a high horse and say 'this is what it should be,' but I need four votes."

District 5 includes all or parts of Aurora, Lisle, Naperville and Warrenville.

Both candidates in the District 6 race -- Al Murphy and Shannon Burns -- said they won't sign up for the pension if they are elected. They disagree about the salary.

Murphy, a Republican from West Chicago, says the pay should be paid no more than $45,000 a year. He said that's because forest preserve commissioners shouldn't make more than county board members.

Burns said she believes forest preserve commissioners should get the same salary as county board members. "The work that the forest preserve does is equally important to the work that county board does," the West Chicago Democrat said.

District 6 includes all or parts of Warrenville, Batavia, West Chicago, Wheaton, Winfield, Carol Stream, Bloomingdale, Hanover Park, Bartlett, Wayne and St. Charles.

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