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updated: 2/29/2016 7:31 PM

Whether McHenry Co. Board works enough hours for pensions questioned

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  • State Rep. Jack Franks, left, and Louis W. Kosiba, executive director of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, discuss whether McHenry County Board members work enough hours to qualify for their pensions.

      State Rep. Jack Franks, left, and Louis W. Kosiba, executive director of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, discuss whether McHenry County Board members work enough hours to qualify for their pensions.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • State Rep. Jack Franks talks about McHenry County Board members' pension benefits.

      State Rep. Jack Franks talks about McHenry County Board members' pension benefits.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 

State Rep. Jack Franks and a state retirement fund leader are questioning whether McHenry County Board members are working enough hours to receive pension benefits.

Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund Executive Director Louis Kosiba said Monday an audit conducted in October raised concerns about whether 18 of 24 board members who signed an affidavit of the time they put in are actually meeting those requirements. State law requires elected officials to work at least 1,000 hours per year to be eligible for the state pension.

"IMRF is not going to ignore something when it has been brought to our attention," Kosiba told the Daily Herald editorial board. "It's our job to ensure the system is being administered properly."

Kosiba said it's "highly unusual" for officials in governing bodies such as the McHenry County Board to work enough hours to be eligible for IMRF participation, as per IMRF guidelines.

Franks, a Marengo Democrat, said he plans to ask the state's attorney's office to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate. For State's Attorney Lou Bianchi to analyze the situation himself would be a conflict of interest, Franks said, noting Bianchi serves as the attorney for the all-Republican county board.

"Our property taxes are among the highest in the nation," Franks said. "One of the reasons, I think, is we have a bloated county board taking pension benefits illegally that they're not entitled to."

Donna Kelly, first assistant state's attorney, declined to comment, saying the state's attorney's office hadn't previously been notified by the IMRF of any questions about elected officials' hours.

Franks said he and his staff calculated the number of hours each board member spent in committee and board meetings last year. That would account for only about one-fifth of the required hours, or less than 200, according to documents Franks gave the Daily Herald. He said the figures were determined through a review of 2015 public meeting minutes.

Other eligible work hours would include meeting preparation and office hours. However, Franks said, the county board members do not have offices, nor are they required by the county to log their time working on county-related business.

Added Kosiba: "I think that undercuts their argument that they put in the hours that are required." He noted that attending community events, election-related duties and campaigning are not eligible work hours.

Providing false information in order to receive a benefit is a felony, Kosiba said, which is why the IMRF encourages people to document their hours and understand IMRF rules.

McHenry County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller said there's no question he exceeds the 1,000-hour minimum. Since he started logging his time about six months ago -- a practice not required by the county -- he said he has averaged 94 hours per month.

"Does everybody spend that kind of time? No, I don't believe that," he said. "But I think there's a difference between what I'm doing and what some county board members are doing."

Pension benefits, he added, "are not the reason we do this job."

Donna Kurtz, a District 2 board member, said she also follows the IMRF guidelines and has met the 1,000-hour requirement since she became a board member in 2009.

She said she maintains a "rough record" of her hours and allocates a certain amount of time to the role each week.

"I think the best way to address (the hour requirement), based on what (IMRF) told me, is this: Over the course of the term, can you justify the hours that you worked and the work that you do on behalf of the community?" she said. "I think that's certainly doable for me."

"I do think when you get a job and you're offered the benefits, I think it's appropriate to consider the benefits," she said.

But Franks said there's no proof that county board members put in their time for the benefits.

"We don't have to prove a negative," he said. "They have to prove they've done it."

Kosiba said IMRF has rescinded pension benefits for other elected officials in the past who did not meet the time requirement after an audit.

"If we don't feel we get sufficient documentation to certify, verify, substantiate their hours, we can disenroll them from IMRF," Kosiba said, noting that they would have the right to appeal any IMRF staff decision to a hearing officer.

More than half the county board members -- 65 of 114 -- in DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties are enrolled in IMRF, according to the retirement fund's records. But with a 75 percent participation rate, the McHenry County Board easily outpaces the other four county boards.

The Will County Board has the next highest participation rate with 15 of the 26 members enrolled in IMRF. Only 10 of the 25 members, or 40 percent, of the Kane County Board participate in IMRF. Both boards, however, have a lower standard of 600 hours per year, said John Krupa, IMRF communications manager.

The Cook County Board has its own pension program and does not participate in IMRF. Records from Cook County's pension program indicate 17 of the 18 commissioners are retirement plan participants.

Most IMRF participants contribute 4.5 percent of their pay toward their eventual pensions. It's one of the lowest employee contribution rates among the state's major retirement plans. The employer contribution, which is covered by taxpayers, varies each year depending on salary growth and investment fund returns.

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