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David Giuliani: An awkward question for politicians

December 2, 2018

Sometimes reporters must ask awkward questions. It’s part of the job description.

Last week, I attended a meeting of the Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency board, a group of politicians that run the local sewage treatment plant.

Four of the seven members get $600 per meeting attended. The chairman pulls in a cool $700, while the vice chair receives $650 and the secretary $625.

At last week’s meeting, I kept close track of the clock. The board met for 41 minutes, which works out to a total cost of $106 a minute.

For a member who makes $600, that amounts to $15 a minute. At that rate, a person would only have to work 37 hours — less than the traditional full-time work week — to reach the median household income of $34,000 in Kankakee.

I did the calculations after the meeting. By that point, a few of the members had left.

But some were still there, including Kankakee Ald. Dennis Baron, Bradley Mayor Bruce Adams and Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong. None of them responded when I asked them for their perspectives on a job that paid $15 per minute.

However, the only nonpolitician in the group, Marc Wakat, appointed by the Kankakee City Council, did answer. He said members study their meeting packets beforehand and that the board has a lot of responsibility.

But the same is true for other public bodies, whose members make far less. Kankakee County Board members, for instance, pull in $70 per meeting.

What makes the KRMA board unique is that four of the members — the mayors of Kankakee, Bourbonnais, Bradley and Aroma Park — appoint themselves to their jobs.

In 2007, the KRMA board upped members’ pay to $600, from $50, a more than 1,000-percent increase. Ever ask your boss for such a large raise? I didn’t think so.

If the Kankakee City Council or the county board members sought such pay hikes, they might as well write their political obituaries. No way would the public stand for it. Not for a minute.

So why did KRMA enact such an increase without, as best I can tell, even a whiff of publicity?

Probably because no one is watching the KRMA board. Not the public. Not the media.

When I walked into the meeting last week, about 15 people were present. I was the only one without a check from the agency, making me a distinct outsider.

When I asked the question about members’ pay afterward, I was nervous. After all, these were the very people benefiting from the arrangement.

Some of the members may well have been offended. The chairman, Bruce Adams, later pointed out in an email that none of them were on the board when their pay increased.

True enough, but they are now, which is why I asked Adams whether he thought the meeting pay was appropriate. He gave no direct response.

It was an awkward question the mayor must have thought it best not to answer.

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