AP NEWS

Official pushes night meetings

September 27, 2018

KANKAKEE — Nearly all government bodies meet at night, when most constituents have the opportunity to attend.

County boards are often the exception.

In Kankakee County, the board and its committees meet during the day. That’s something board member Robert Ellington-Snipes, D-Kankakee, would like to change.

At Tuesday’s executive committee meeting, Ellington-Snipes proposed the board meet at least four times a year during the evening. At the bare minimum, he said, it should convene at least once annually at night.

“That would accommodate those who can’t usually attend,” he told the committee.

He noted the argument that it’s costly to hold night meetings because of overtime paid to staff required to attend. But he said it was worth the expense to let constituents know they are welcome.

No one commented during the meeting about Ellington-Snipes’ proposal. But afterward, board member Jim Byrne, R-Bourbonnais, said he supported the idea. He said most people work and are barred from taking time off to attend. And he said qualified people with day jobs are reluctant to run for a board that meets during the day.

Byrne said he once proposed the board’s criminal justice committee meet at night in an outlying area because of a surge in crime. He said this was a way for residents to express their concerns. But he had no takers.

After recently resigning from the board, Patrick McConnell, R-Bourbonnais, said one of his regrets was not convincing his colleagues to hold night meetings.

Asked by the Daily Journal last year about changing to night meetings, chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, said, “I’m not opposed to it, but it is not easy to do, and there is a cost. If we are going to do it, we have to do it methodically, not by just flipping a switch.”

‘SHOULD BE EQUAL’

Also at the meeting, Ellington-Snipes proposed county board members be paid equally. Now, they are paid $70 per board or committee meeting. Some members belong to more committees than others, meaning there are differences in pay.

“It should be equal across the board, rather than have fluctuations,” he said.

Ellington-Snipes said the money already budgeted for county board members could simply be divided equally among them. Many cities, including Kankakee, pay their elected representatives a fixed sum, he said.

After the meeting, Byrne said he opposed the idea because some members could miss meetings and still be paid. There is no legal mechanism in Illinois to oust board members who fail to show up for months at a time without an explanation. Some local county board members have taken advantage of that. One recently showed up after nearly a year away, saying he was gone because he had been busy.

‘GLAD YOU ARE HERE’

At the executive committee meeting, County Administrator Anita Speckman updated members on her efforts to clean up county personnel policies and handle insurance issues, among other tasks.

After she spoke, Chairman Wheeler said she “underplayed” all she had done in a month.

“I’m glad you are here,” he said.

Speckman, whom Wheeler hired in April, said she appreciated the board’s support.

“Part of my job is telling people what they don’t want to hear. I appreciate that Andy had been supportive, even when the news has been brutal,” she said.

Speckman was previously Iroquois County’s finance director.

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