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Reporter’s Notebook: Raise-ing Cain

If the McHenry County Board finds giving themselves a small raise to be too complicated, should they end up getting one?

As I reported late last night, a resolution to give all 24 board members a raise starting in their next term in 2013 devolved into a marathon debate of at least 90 minutes that included six amendments and three attempts to make amendments to amendments. You know it's a good County Board meeting – good for us journalists, that is – when members start trying to amend amendments to motions.

The original motion was to give board members a raise to $21,500, and the board chairman a raise to $82,200, starting in 2013, followed by a one-year freeze. Starting in 2015 through 2021, the salaries would increase based on the rate of inflation, the raises that their nonunion employees get, or 5 percent, whichever is smallest. It also eliminated giving mileage reimbursement for attending meetings.

When the dust settled, the County Board eliminated the automatic raises and reinstated mileage reimbursement, but also attempted a flurry of other changes.

The most controversial was a proposal by Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock. It proposed doing away with salaries entirely and paying members on a per diem attendance basis, as well as making them pay full cost for health, dental and other benefits.

Schuster apparently tallied attendance for the full board and its standing committees over the past eight  months (whether she did this solo or other board members helped, she did not say), and found 206 absences. She said her proposal, which would allow a board member to rake in that $21,500 salary if they attended eight meetings a month at $225 per meeting, would ensure that "the public isn't paying for something they're not getting."

Members like John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, and Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, said the per diem concept was unfair because board members work off the clock addressing constituent concerns and reading up on materials before meetings and votes.

Hammerand didn't name names, but got some nervous laughs from fellow board members when he said that he doesn't sweat it much if some people decide not to show up.

"So some members don't want to attend? Great, because we get more done without them," Hammerand said.

Schuster's fellow District 6 representative, Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, supported the per diem idea.

"Folks, this is why it's called public service," Evertsen said. "This is why people press for term limits. If you feel you're unduly put upon because you're not compensated for what other groups would pay you ... feel free to serve your time, step down, and let someone else step up."

Interestingly enough, one of the arguments against Schuster's proposal was that her system may punish board members who had the misfortune of being assigned to committees run by incapable chairpeople and overly talkative members.

"You could be sitting there for four hours when it should have been done much sooner than that," Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, said.

If you're not a regular reader of my blog, I wrote last Friday about behind-the-scenes complaints that County Board meetings are getting way too long and complicated over simple matters. I didn't know it would only take the County Board a few days to provide me with Exhibit A as to why its meetings need time limits.

As a final observation, I hope that County Board members noticed what didn't happen to Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, when he called the question and asked for a vote to help bring an end to the long and tortuous debate.

God did not strike Provenzano down where he sat. He did not spontaneously combust. A gaping hole did not open up under Provenzano's chair and swallow him whole to the stench of brimstone and the cackling of the fallen. Not one of the plagues of Exodus or the judgments of Revelation afflicted Provenzano for the parliamentary equivalent of telling everyone to stick a sock in it and vote.

So take note, board members – you won’t die if you call the question and move things along. It’s OK. Trust me.

Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at kcraver@shawmedia.com.

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