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Officials make $600 a meeting

September 30, 2018

In some of Kankakee County’s biggest towns, a few elected officials get thousands more in pay than municipal records indicate.

These officials belong to the seven-member board of directors for the Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency, which provides sewer service to Kankakee, Bradley, Bourbonnais and Aroma Park. It was created in 1999 as part of an intergovernmental agreement.

Each rank-and-file board member makes $600 per monthly meeting attended. Officers get more — $700 for chairman, $650 for vice chairman and $625 for secretary. Listed as “administrative director fees,” these rates have been in place for 11 years. In recent years, the full board has met 12 times annually. Meetings typically last an hour to one and a half hours, according to the agency.

Mayors Chasity Wells-Armstrong of Kankakee, Paul Schore of Bourbonnais, Bruce Adams of Bradley and Brian Stump of Aroma Park have the power to appoint their town’s members. They all have appointed themselves.

Kankakee gets four members in all. Besides Wells-Armstrong, the others are Kankakee Aldermen Dennis Baron and Carl Brown and Limestone Township resident Marc Wakat, who lives outside the sewer agency’s jurisdiction.

Adams is the chairman, Wells-Armstrong is vice chairman, and Schore is secretary.

Members’ payments are contingent on attending meetings; they may spend additional time preparing for the sessions. In their absence, members can send alternates, who get the same pay as those they’re sitting in for.

Twice earlier this year, Baron, who was vice chairman at the time, couldn’t vote on a particular issue because of a potential conflict, so the city’s alternate member, Gabriel Salazar, a city employee, took Baron’s place for part of the meeting. The two men split the $650 meeting payments.

Last fiscal year, Mayor Adams received the most money of the trustees, pulling in $7,700. He missed one meeting. If he had made all 12, he would have received $8,400, which would work out to $470 an hour if the board meets one and a half hours each time. That amount would drop if he did work for the agency outside meetings.

Adams makes $14,400 as mayor of Bradley, a part-time position. With his membership on the agency’s board, he increases his pay to more than $21,000.

Wells-Armstrong receives $60,400 from the city, but her pay from the agency pushes her earnings to $67,600.

The pay for the Bourbonnais mayor has been $12,000 since 1989, but with the agency’s compensation, Schore’s earnings increase to $20,000 annually.

The total payments to directors last year amounted to nearly $52,000.

‘SMELLS A LITTLE BIT’

Under state law, all public bodies must set their elected officials’ pay six months before terms begin. The state constitution bans adjustments to elected officials’ pay during their terms.

The Daily Journal could find no references to the agency’s pay in the municipalities’ ordinances.

It’s unclear whether state law requires such compensation to be included.

Maryam Judar, an attorney and executive director of the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center, said the sewer agency’s pay should be listed as part of elected officials’ compensation packages.

“Given the unique situation, they should take extra special measures to be transparent,” Judar said. “It’s worthy of investigation. It smells a little bit.”

‘DEDICATED’ OFFICIALS

In an email, Neal Smith, the agency’s attorney, said the board members are “dedicated public officials who devote substantial time to KRMA responsibilities.” He said all but one of the members do double duty as elected officials.

Smith acknowledged the law requiring salaries be set before terms of office, but he said agency board of director positions are unelected and that board members’ pay is not connected to their elected offices.

In an interview, Schore said agency board members are not elected to their posts, so that is why their fees are not included in ordinances. He said he includes his sewer agency position on his statement of economic interest, which elected officials are required to file with the county clerk.

As an officer, he said his duties include signing checks and visiting the sewer plant.

“It’s a utility owned by the municipalities. We could make it private, but people would pay more money because private ownership would mean a profit,” he said.

Aroma Park Mayor Brian Stump said his board compensation doubles his mayoral pay, which is $600 monthly.

In an email, Wells-Armstrong said, “Regarding work outside KRMA meetings, many mayors I know are working around the clock to serve their communities. There are questions, discussions, agenda-setting meetings and additional preparation time for KRMA meetings. I cannot address how much time the other mayors spend, but I work approximately 60-plus hours a week as a part-time mayor between my duties with the city and KRMA.”

Mayor Adams didn’t return a message for comment.

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