McHenry Township sues voter who moved to reinstate officials' higher salaries at special meeting
In a move meant to prohibit incoming McHenry Township trustees elected last week from reversing pay cuts for public officials, the township's outgoing board members on Monday filed a lawsuit against a voter who tried to circumvent the salary decreases.
The litigation names Robert Beltran, the voter, as a defendant. It seeks to have a McHenry County judge declare the resolution Beltran wrote and received ample support for during a township special meeting last month as "inapplicable and void."
The resolution, which was approved by 31 out of 36 township voters present at last month's special meeting, is aimed at overriding the significant slashes to compensation of the township's elected officials made last year by a majority of the current board of trustees, whose terms end next month.
The board last year cut the pay for these officials nearly in half for the next four years, reducing annual salaries for the township supervisor, highway commissioner and assessor to $45,000 through 2025. Those positions all paid in excess of $75,000 before the cuts, the Northwest Herald reported.
The trustees also lowered the pay of the township clerk from more than $14,000 to $10,000 annually for the upcoming term, and eliminated the $100 per meeting pay of trustees, while also stripping health insurance benefits from all elected positions.
Beltran's resolution approved last month sought to stave off those cuts and keep salaries for the elected positions near the $70,000 range.
Illinois law gives township voters broad powers to take certain actions on their own, without the approval from the board of trustees, at special meetings, but the McHenry Township attorney James Millitello III last month advised the trustees that the voters do not have the power to set compensation of the elected positions.
"There is no provision in the Township Code that authorizes or gives power to the township electors to set compensation or to maintain the status quo of the township officers' compensation," the lawsuit states.
Beltran argues that because state law says voters can control the distribution of township property and assets, they can set the salaries, since money is property. He also said voters passed a resolution in 2018 to keep the salaries of the officials near the $70,000 range, and the resolution from last month would not violate state law preventing salary decisions from being made too close to an election.
Trustee Bob Anderson, who supported the salary cuts, said the township filed the complaint against Beltran in hopes the new board members elected last week would be legally unable to increase the officials' pay for the upcoming four-year term.
Beltran agreed the lawsuit expressed an intention of "tying the hands of the future board."
"I don't understand how they can be suing me personally, since it was a resolution passed by 31 of the 36 people present at the special meeting," Beltran said. " ... It is kind of like suing John Hancock for being the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence."
John Macrito, who appears poised for election as a McHenry Township trustee once last week's results are certified, opposed the salary cuts, but said the new board is unlikely to explore reinstating the higher pay for the impacted officials.
"Do I think they should've reduced their salaries? Heck no. Just because I believe they should make (more), it doesn't mean legally they can do it (for this term)," Macrito said. "I'm not certain the electors have the power to address the salaries of the township elected officials. If someone convinces me the electors do have that power, I'm glad to, let's give it to them."