Family connections in Rosemont net $2 million in pay

The Stephens name means a lot to residents of Rosemont.

It also costs a lot.

The 10 members of the Stephens family on the village's payroll received almost $1 million in compensation last year, according to village financial records. Additionally, five other elected officials and their 13 combined family members totaled another million dollars in pay in 2010. That means out of 679 village employees, these 28 members of six families were responsible for 10 percent of Rosemont's $20 million in personnel costs last year.

“Don Stephens founded Rosemont, so yeah, there are employees that are related or are Stephens family members,” said Gary Mack, a spokesman for Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens. “With its small population and a residency requirement, it stands to reason that there are a number of (employees) that are related. Rosemont makes no apology for that whatsoever.”

Illinois has no anti-nepotism law that applies directly to every level of government. Local governments are left to themselves to devise policies that thwart nepotism. However, these policies vary vastly between locales, and in some cases between jobs.

“This is something that would obviously be a problem to everyone outside of government,” said state Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican. “Government has proved from year to year that it will not police itself, but the voters need to cast ballots in opposition of people who promote nepotism.”

Duffy cited a bill he sponsored last session that died in committee which would have prevented nepotism in government appointments. He said the legislature should examine the idea of a statewide law, but gave it “zero chance” of being passed by the current General Assembly.

“It doesn't mean we shouldn't try, though,” he said. “The more we bring it to the attention of voters, they'll be aware of what is happening.”

In Mundelein, village employees are not allowed to hold a job that is “supervised directly or indirectly” by a relative, Village Administrator John Lobaito said. Yet, that policy doesn't apply to the village's fire and police departments. That's because an independent fire and police commission oversees those employees, Lobaito said. That allows Mundelein Fire Chief Timothy Sashko to work with his firefighter son, Brad. And at the village's police department, Deputy Police Chief Eric Guenther oversees his brother, William.

“The fire and police chiefs have no say in who gets hired,” Lobaito said. “No issue has ever been brought up about this. In fact, it's been my experience it's more of an issue outside the realm of fire and police and I've seen it more of a problem in what I'd call civilian jobs.”

Geneva Assistant City Administrator Stephanie Hawkins said the village relaxed its anti-nepotism policy in 2010, but it's still fairly strict.

“It used to be if they were in the same department one would have to leave, but now if they're working within the same division (within a department) one of them would have to leave,” she said. “They could find another position within the city, but if not, they'd have to leave altogether.”

Geneva's policy “discourages the hiring of more than one family member,” Dawkins said.

That's clearly not the case in Rosemont. Attempts to procure a copy of the village's anti-nepotism policy were unsuccessful. It's not clear whether one exists. Unlike many suburbs, Rosemont does not provide an online copy of the village's codes on its website. Calls to the village's attorney and clerk were also not returned. One policy that does exist is a requirement that all full-time employees be residents of the village.

“There are reasons for and against residency requirements,” said David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “It's very fair to ask if these requirements are put in place to have these jobs filled by people living among the residents or if it's put in place to limit the number of people who can even apply for those jobs.”

Bradley Stephens, son of late Rosemont founder Donald E. Stephens, made $125,000 in 2010 as the village's mayor, financial records show. The mayor's brother, Donald Stephens II, is the village's police superintendent who received $144,885 last year. The police superintendent's son, Donald Stephens III, is Rosemont's first deputy police superintendent and made $140,613 in 2010. The highest earning member of the Stephens clan is the patriarch's grandson Christopher, who received $193,462 to oversee the village's convention center named after his grandfather in the village of a little more than 4,300 residents.

The highest paid village employee is Harry Pappas, who made nearly $230,000 last year as the Allstate Arena's top executive. He is married to village trustee Sharon Pappas, who received $30,000 for her elected post, officials there said.

Trustees Ralph Di Matteo, Karen Fazio, Jack Hasselberger and Village Clerk Deborah Drehobl also have family members who work for the village, records show.

Besides elected officials, other Rosemont families have multiple members on the village payroll.

“The people who hold these jobs are qualified for those jobs,” Mack said. “If they couldn't do those jobs, they wouldn't be here. It's as simple as that.”

Rosemont makes the lion's share of its revenue from sales taxes and hotel/motel taxes. Each year, it rebates a large percentage of the residents' property taxes. Mack points to Bradley Stephens' overwhelming election victory over challenger Joseph Watrach — 998 to 98 in 2009 — as evidence in support of the status quo.

“Clearly, it's even beyond a shadow of a doubt that the people of Rosemont support him, so there's no appearance of impropriety to the people of Rosemont,” Mack said. “It is one of the most successfully managed communities in the country.”

Longtime residents Ron Szczesny and John Frank agree with Mack. Szczesny said he receives excellent service from the village and doesn't mind that so many relatives work together.

“It's part of the name of the game,” he said.

Frank was one of the original residents of the village and appreciates what the village does for him.

“As a senior, it gets hard to do some things around here and they come here and cut my grass for me, it costs me $5,” Frank explained. “In the winter, they come in and shovel the snow and it costs me $10. You can't beat that.”

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