Nine Sangamon County Board members have dropped out of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pension system, leaving only 10 of the 29 board members in IMRF.
The General Assembly this year passed a law banning future county board members from getting into the system and requiring that current board members, across the state, make monthly reports of hours worked to justify staying in the system.
As I reported in a story back in May, most Sangamon County Board members are supposed to work 1,000 hours a year — or an average of 20 hours a week for 50 weeks a year — to be in the system. Some longer-serving board members came under an earlier 600-hour annual requirement.
While some counties had their part-time board members sign documents saying they would work a specified number of hours, Sangamon County board members weren’t required to do so, and some didn’t know of the requirement.
State Rep. JACK FRANKS, D-Marengo, sponsored the legislation to ban future part-time county board members from the pension system after learning that McHenry County Board members signed such a document, but he doubted all members there met that standard.
When I told Sangamon County Board member TONY DelGIORNO, D-District 22, of the 1,000-hour requirement for that May story, he was upfront in saying he hadn’t known of the requirement and intended to drop out of the system. He was allowed to do so once the new law took effect.
He’s been on the board less than four years, so he gets no pension. If he did stay in the system and were to serve 10 years, he would have qualified at that time for a pension benefit of less than $3,100 a year.
Under that new law, the first month for which board members had to document their hours was September, and 10 members of the 29-member Sangamon County Board turned in time sheets. According to information from CHARLIE STRATTON, director of human resources for the county, and the IMRF, nine board members dropped out and didn’t file the sheets.
Those who dropped out besides DelGiorno are fellow Democrats VERA SMALL, District 19, and LINDA DOUGLAS-WILLIAMS, District 20; as well as Republicans LORI WILLIAMS, District 8; JEFF THOMAS, District 4; SAM SNELL, District 6; MIKE SULLIVAN, District 11; ANNETTE FULGENZI, District 17; and SAM MONTALBANO, District 13. Montalbano isn’t running for re-election, so he’d be off the board soon anyway.
Williams was appointed to a vacancy on the board in March and told me she signed up for the pension system knowing there was a work requirement but being “not quite sure how many hours” were needed. She also said as a new member, she didn’t know how many hours the job would entail. Now that monthly logs must be filled out, she said, “I just didn’t feel like it was worth it for me to take the time” to do the paperwork.
Annette Fulgenzi got on the board last year, and said she didn’t know of the time requirement when she signed up, just from going through the packet of new-member information.
“Keeping a log would just be time consuming,” she said Wednesday. “I just wouldn’t want to take a chance on making any errors.”
Among those who did log their September hours was board Chairman ANDY VAN METER, R-District 24, with 61 hours. The most for the month was 84 hours listed by JOEL TJELMELAND JR., R-District 14, including six hours listed as “Labor Day/relaxing reviewing cb documents,” and five hours, over two days, of discussing the board with a neighbor.
According to guidelines from the IMRF, legitimate time to report would include meetings and communications with constituents. Not reportable is time spent on call or being “informally available to constituents.”
Tjelmeland, reached Wednesday, said he had not seen the IMRF guidelines and thinks some hours on his sheet “probably wouldn’t be included.”
“I’ll readjust,” he said of the report.
The lowest number of reported hours was 27.5 by TIM KRELL, R-District 15. Others were TODD SMITH, R-District 2, 45 hours; GEORGE PRECKWINKLE, R-District 25, 47 hours; LISA HILLS, R-District 23, 39.5 hours; JOHN O’NEILL, R-District 26, 34.5 hours; LINDA FULGENZI, R-District 12, 30.5 hours; CRAIG HALL, R-District 7, 29 hours, not including “many short visits not worth counting,” according to his log; and CATHY SCAIFE, R-District 29, 28.5 hours.
To reach 1,000 hours a year, the average month would have more than 83 hours of activity.
DelGiorno, of Springfield, is the Democratic candidate for the Illinois House in the 99th District. Because he had signed up for the pension and admitted in my story that he didn’t know of the annual hours requirement, the state GOP sent mailers calling him a “pension cheat,” and doctoring a picture showing him holding a check for a “Huge amount.” As I have earlier reported, he’ll never get a dime of that pension.
DelGiorno responded that other board members including 16 Republicans who endorsed his opponent, state Rep. SARA WOJCICKI JIMENEZ, R-Leland Grove, were also in the pension system at the time. The Sangamon County Board has 24 Republicans and five Democrats.
The executive director of the state GOP said when I wrote about the flier that the mailing was justified because DelGiorno is a lawyer and “surely knew what he was joining” when he signed up for the pension. And Jimenez’s campaign manager had said DelGiorno “only now opted out when Election Day is around the corner.”
According to the IMRF, there have been more than 30 other county board members who have dropped out of the system this summer and fall, from counties including Madison, Christian, Lake, Will, Kane, Wabash, Edwards, Clinton, White, Macoupin and Randolph.
Who says government can’t solve problems?
Sangamon County Clerk DON GRAY says that his office got a call some time ago letting it be known that while ballot-return envelopes for vote-by-mail ballots were marked with a recommended amount of postage — it was six cents too high.
Turns out that postage rates were actually reduced last spring. First-class stamps, for example, came down from 49 cents to 47 cents.
Thus, the ballot-return envelopes need to have only $1.36 in postage attached — instead of $1.42.
According to Gray, the envelopes had been marked with $1.42 months in advance, but as soon as the lower rate was discovered, his election staff made the change on nearly 9,000 envelopes. STACEY KERN, director of elections, said white labels were put on each envelope, and the new marking indicating the need for $1.36 in postage was then put on those labels.
“Our preparation is year-long,” Gray said. “Who could have even thought that the cost of postage would decrease?” he added with a laugh. “When’s the last time that happened?”