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Cook County Commissioners looking to make sweet board posts less sweet

Updated: November 1, 2012 7:20PM



The Cook County Sheriff’s Merit Board, which conducts hiring tests and disciplinary hearings for sheriff’s police, correctional officers and deputies, are required to meet just four times annually.

Still the nine-member board, appointed by the sheriff, has a nice compensation package: a $26,000 annual salary for sitting members and $31,000 for the chair, with all receiving pension and healthcare benefits though the sheriff’s office could not provide a dollar amount for those fringe benefits.

On Thursday, Cook County Commissioners Larry Suffredin and Bridget Gainer introduced a measure that would do away with the benefits altogether and slash the salaries for board members, instead giving each $500 per meeting and any day “he is engaged in transacting the business of the Sheriff’s Merit Board,” according to county documents. The annual pay would be capped at $12,000 and members would still be eligible to have certain expenses paid.

“We’re paying too much money for the work the board does,” Suffredin told the Sun-Times.

According to the sheriff’s website, the members are required to meet on the first Thursdays of January, April, July and October. Just looking at the meetings alone, that averages out to more than $6,000 per meeting for regular board members while the chair would get almost $8,000 per meeting.

While the sheriff’s office would not weigh in on the proposal, spokesman Frank Bilecki wrote in an email that the board does work beyond just the quarterly meetings. Members vet some 10,000 job applicants annually and provide the sheriff with lists of recommended hires. Each member also is assigned to handle a number of disciplinary hearings that are conducted each month. Members not only hand down decisions but also offer a written opinion in the case.

In addition to quarterly meetings, the members are required to attend special meetings that may be called, Bilecki wrote.

State statute, which established the merit board, caps the pay for board members at $25,000 but Suffredin explained that it is likely the county at some point exercised its home rule authority and paid the members more.

As the cash-strapped county government looks to shore up pension and other costs — elected leaders are currently working to close a projected $268 million budget gap in 2013 — a series of lesser known boards may also see their compensation packages shrink.

Suffredin and Gainer are sponsoring similar measures for the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals and the Employees Appeals Board, whose members are appointed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckiwnkle and approved by the board.

The five-member zoning board, which meets up to four times monthly to consider zoning appeals in unincorporated Cook County and can call public hearings on special use applications in townships, receive a salary as well as health and pension benefits for meeting up to four times monthly. The chair earns a $43,081 annually with another $21,728 in benefits, while the members earn $34,678 and another $20,226 in health and pension benefits, according Preckwinkle’s office.

The Employee Appeals Board meets monthly to hear career service employees’ who are appealing anything from a firing to a demotion to suspension of 11 days or longer. The board has five spots, and members earn a salary and are eligible for health and pension benefits. Members earn $34,765.60 annually with $20,226 in benefits while the chair earns $43,080.96 with $21,720 in benefits, Preckwinkle’s office said.

In making his case, Suffredin points to the Illinois Gaming Board, which gets $300 per meeting, plus expense

“We should compensate people for doing this public service, but I think that it’s a little rich. We’re trying to figure out a way to do this without being unfair to the people who took these jobs with the belief that they’re getting these benefits.”

Gainer was more cautious when asked about the proposal, noting this is a review process.

“We’re looking at these appointed boards and what makes sense going forward. We’re kind of stepping back and evaluating — what are the tasks? What are the duties? How do we rely on them and what’s a fair compensation to attract smart people?”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said of the proposal:

“We’re talking to Commissioner Suffredin. I think generally it’s a good idea.”



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