WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Board members spent 90 minutes Thursday evening excoriating Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund Executive Director Louis Kosiba over his agency’s ongoing investigation into whether board members are working the 1,000 hours a year required to qualify for a pension.
County Board members, who had invited Kosiba to talk about the IMRF system, grilled him almost constantly after his brief presentation ended, repeatedly accusing him of allowing his agency to be a pawn of state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who asked the agency to look into the board’s work hours. Members also criticized him for appearing with Franks with the editorial boards of two local newspapers before going to the county first.
Board member Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, flatly told Kosiba that he wasn’t buying his explanations.
“I think you were dragged into a political ploy by a state representative who’s had a vendetta against this board for many, many years,” Provenzano said. “I would expect greater prudence and diligence from an executive director of your stature. I’m just going to chalk it up to the fact that it was a bad choice on your part to get into a political situation two weeks before an election.”
Franks last month asked the IMRF to investigate the County Board’s participation in IMRF, alleging that board members were falling far short of the 1,000-hour minimum, which adds up to about 20 hours a week for 50 weeks. The two met Feb. 29 with the editorial boards of the Northwest Herald and the Daily Herald.
Kosiba defended his decision and the integrity of the investigation, but said that he would push back the April 4 deadline he gave board members to provide documentation of their work time since 2015. He also said he wanted to speak with the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office to make sure the IMRF investigation does not prejudice an unrelated Open Meetings Act lawsuit filed against the County Board by a labor union that last year made the same complaint that Franks did.
Kosiba, who has led IMRF since 2001, kept his comments with the Northwest Herald’s editors to talking about IMRF rules and did not talk about the accusations Franks was making. The editorial board, which often honors requests from elected officials to speak with them, did not know what Franks wanted to talk about until he appeared with Kosiba.
“I did not run to the press and throw this County Board under the bus,” Kosiba said. “I went to the press to talk about IMRF because a state legislator was going to the press about this board. I was there to provide information. … I didn’t decide I wanted to go after this board. I didn’t decide I wanted to fix some grievance with this board.”
But board members made it clear that they didn’t accept that answer. Both County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, and Vice Chairwoman Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, criticized the handling of the situation.
“Your decision was made before you even heard our side of the story, and I have trouble with that,” Barnes said.
Members also did not buy Kosiba’s statement that his office would investigate any other county board with members receiving IMRF if they got a tip. When Kosiba said IMRF would, Gottemoller chimed in, “They’ll have to have a news conference first.”
But while he called the IMRF investigation a pre-election political stunt, board member Andrew Gasser, R-Fox River Grove, asked board members why they feel they should have pensions in the first place. He is one of two members who voluntarily rejected participating in IMRF.
“We can solve this problem, folks. We can solve it right now,” Gasser said. “I guarantee you we can get a bunch of people in here saying, ‘You know what, McHenry County Board members, you don’t need pensions.’ And if they did take away your pension, would you still serve?”
The IMRF’s own policy manual states that, barring “highly unusual circumstances,” officials elected to local governments will not qualify for pensions under the 1,000-hour threshold.