State Rep. Jack Franks officially asked McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi for a special prosecutor to investigate whether County Board members are working the 1,000 hours a year required to qualify for Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pensions.
The letter, dated March 1 and delivered Friday, questions whether the board members now enrolled in IMRF have come close to the number of hours necessary, as they attested to in signed affidavits at IMRF’s request. Officials with IMRF said earlier this week that they were questioning the board’s numbers, after a tip from a local labor union that members may not be working the required minimum.
“We believe that there is enough evidence to show that there is potential criminal activity or at the very least civil liability for many of the county board members,” wrote Franks, D-Marengo.
The state’s attorney’s office cannot investigate the matter itself because it also serves as the legal counsel for the County Board, which would constitute a conflict of interest.
Under state law, McHenry County government employees must work at least 1,000 hours a year – or about 20 hours a week for 50 weeks – to qualify for IMRF benefits. The County Board in 1997 set a higher standard for its employees – the law otherwise sets a 600-hour annual minimum.
The IMRF’s policy manual states that people elected to county and township boards and municipal governments with the 1,000-hour threshold likely will not qualify for IMRF pensions, “barring highly unusual circumstances.”
All but four of the 24 board members are signed up for IMRF. Andrew Gasser, R-Fox River Grove, and Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake, spurned the pension and declined to participate. The other two, Robert Nowak, R-Lake in the Hills, and Don Kopsell, R-Crystal Lake, already receive IMRF pensions through their previous local government jobs.
Franks, who represents the 63rd House District, said he added up the number of hours board members were attending meetings and came up far short of the minimum. However, board members under IMRF rules are allowed to count hours spent on preparing for meetings, meeting with constituents and employees, and attendance at civic functions in an official capacity.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 supplied the original tip to IMRF after adding up board members’ meeting times on their own – the union is upset with the County Board’s approval of a symbolic resolution backing Gov. Bruce Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda,” which aims among other things to blunt the power of organized labor.
Both Franks and Local 150 officials have said their initiatives are completely separate from each other.