DuPage County clerk says bonuses totaling more than $100K were needed to keep staff
DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek is defending her decision to spend more than $100,000 to give one-time, lump-sum bonuses to every employee in her office.
County board member Jim Zay this week questioned Kaczmarek about the 5% bonuses distributed in December.
The Carol Stream Republican said Wednesday that he raised the issue because the clerk's office is exploring the possibility of spending more than $300,000 to buy a mail sorting machine for its election division.
If Kaczmarek needed money for the purchase, Zay said, she shouldn't have spent roughly $106,000 in surplus funds from her office's 2019 budget to give bonuses to 41 employees.
Kaczmarek, a Glen Ellyn Democrat, said during Tuesday's county board meeting she decided on the across-the-board bonuses because of concerns about staff turnover following the merger last year of the clerk's office and the former DuPage Election Commission.
"There were a lot of things broken at the election division and the county clerk's office," Kaczmarek said. "And it was more than equipment: It was people. It was morale."
Kaczmarek said the office faces many challenges this year, including a big election in November.
"We need every single person to do their job at the election division and at the traditional clerk's office," she said. "Everyone is needed. Everyone is important."
She said the clerk's office ended the 2019 fiscal year on Nov. 30 with a budget surplus. Even after the bonuses, Kaczmarek said, "we still had quite a bit of money" left over.
There are no plans to give similar bonuses in the future.
"We told our employees that it was a one-time thing," she said.
As a countywide elected official, Kaczmarek gets the final say on how she spends her budget -- a point Zay acknowledges.
"She's elected by the people," he said. "But then you can't come to the county board and ask for help when you're not helping yourself."
Zay said there are county departments that had their budgets cut in recent years because of other spending needs and some of those departments are having problems retaining staff.
For the clerk to hand out bonuses when other departments are dealing with cuts, Zay said, "the optics are bad."
On Wednesday, Wheaton Republican Jeanne Ives, who is seeking the GOP nomination in the 6th Congressional District, released an online ad criticizing Kaczmarek because of the "Chicago-sized bonuses."
Ives and Gordon "Jay" Kinzler of Glen Ellyn are vying to run against freshman Democrat Sean Casten in November.
Meanwhile, several Democrats on the county board voiced support for Kaczmarek.
Considering what's been asked of Kaczmarek in the past year, board member Mary FitzGerald Ozog, a Glen Ellyn Democrat, said, "I think that a one-time bonus across the board is about the most equitable way you could reward employees who have worked exceptionally hard."
Chief Deputy Clerk Adam Johnson released a statement Wednesday saying Kaczmarek consulted with the county's human resources department before issuing the bonuses "to confirm that bonuses had been paid on multiple previous occasions by other DuPage County elected officials and department heads."
The bonuses, he said, were one-time payments that, unlike raises, will not compound over time.
When Kaczmarek took office, roughly 33% of the full-time positions in the clerk's office were vacant and roughly 20% of the election commission's full-time posts were vacant, he said.