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posted: 4/25/2013 2:28 PM

Editorial: Drop pension perks for forest officials

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

DuPage County Forest Preserve Commission President D. Dewey Pierotti Jr. would like the state legislature to stay out of the commission's business. And, generally, we'd agree that local decisions should be made locally, not by state fiat.

But sometimes elected officials need some prodding. So we weren't too upset that some DuPage legislators were looking to dissolve the board (and consolidate the work into the purview of the county) or cut its pay entirely. Neither of those proposals was approved.

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But the moves led this week to some new proposals from the forest preserve commission itself. Commissioner Shannon Burns proposed the elected officials' pay be cut from $53,500 annually to $50,079, which is what DuPage County Board members make.

Does it go far enough? It's at least a good start.

Pierotti would go even further. He would cut the part-time commissioner's pay as Burns proposes, cut his annual pay of $112,258 to possibly $75,000 and eliminate medical and pension benefits for future commissioners and the next forest preserve president. Pierotti does not plan to seek re-election in 2014.

"I can't justify the fact that an elected official for a part-time position is entitled to the same benefits as full-time employees," Pierotti said.

We agree.

Given how much emphasis lately is on the cost of health care, the cost of pensions and the dire economic situation our state and local governments have been mired in for several years, these are issues that should not take too much discussion to implement.

Yet, that is seldom the case.

When Burns is the only commissioner out of seven to decline the district's health insurance and she and one other are the only ones not to sign up for the pension, it's not surprising to find opposition to Pierotti's suggestion.

"We've all found out that our job is a lot more than (attending a meeting) once a week. We're on call 24 hours a day," said Commissioner Linda Painter, who added that she puts in at least the 1,000 hours a year required to be eligible for the publicly funded pension.

Likely true. But we believe elected officials should be seeking office to help the community, not to get perks.

It's an issue that came up in several local races this spring.

And it's an issue that we've editorialized on in the past when our tax watchdog Jake Griffin investigated the pension payouts for county board and township board officials.

It needs to stop, and we need responsible elected officials to make those hard decisions.

Otherwise, state legislators may get involved or better yet, voters may yet get involved and tell these elected officials to stop using taxpayer dollars for perks they should get elsewhere.

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