By KEVIN P. CRAVER – firstname.lastname@example.org
Elected county board members statewide are no longer eligible for pensions under a law signed Friday by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Senate Bill 2701, which took effect with Rauner’s signature Friday, disqualifies future candidates elected to county boards from participating in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. Existing board members already enrolled — the Illinois Constitution forbids altering their benefits — must fill out time sheets to prove they are working the minimum hours required, either 600 or 1,000 hours a year, to qualify.
The bill was spearheaded by Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks, who earlier this year touched off a political firestorm when he asked the IMRF to investigate whether McHenry County Board members, all but a few of whom are now enrolled, are working the 1,000 hours a year to qualify for pensions.
Franks, D-Marengo, said he is happy that a stop will be put to what he called “insiders gaming the system at taxpayers’ expense.”
“I’m very appreciative of Gov. Rauner for partnering with me to stop this corrupt practice of county board members getting pensions for part-time work,” Franks said.
Franks is running for County Board chairman against Republican board member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake. This is the first election in which voters will directly elect the position.
County Board members called the investigation into its work hours nothing more than Franks’ latest attempt to meddle in their affairs, and publicly berated IMRF Director Louis Kosiba and alleged him of becoming a political pawn. But anger aside, the IMRF’s own policy manual states that officials elected to county governments that have selected a 1,000-hour standard, like the McHenry County Board, will not qualify for IMRF pensions except in “highly unusual circumstances.”
The County Board voted in June to withdraw from IMRF on its own and cease accumulating credit for members, as the bill worked its way through the General Assembly. Members who are already vested, meaning they served the minimum number of years to get a pension, will still get one upon reaching retirement age. Members who are not yet vested will not lose their accumulated credit, which can be applied toward a pension if they take a government job that is IMRF-eligible.
But because the County Board’s self-imposed exit from IMRF takes effect Dec. 1, and the new law takes effect immediately, members participating in the retirement fund will need to maintain time sheets until that cutoff.
Government officials and employees enrolled in IMRF before 2011 need eight years to be vested – that threshold increased to 10 years in 2011 as part of a pension reform package approved by state lawmakers.
Officials with IMRF were not available for comment Monday as to the status of the investigation – the agency had asked County Board members participating in IMRF to provide proof of their work hours dating back to 2015. Franks has been adamant that board members in IMRF, regardless of their withdrawal vote, prove that they legitimately accumulated their time to date.
The original version of Senate Bill 2701, filed by state Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, only required county board members to keep time sheets. But she accepted Franks’ rewrite because other county boards in Illinois were looking at the McHenry County situation and considering withdrawing altogether, she said.
Time sheets are public record under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. An earlier proposed amendment would have exempted them, but lawmakers changed their minds.