A friendly amendment to a bill by state Sen. Pam Althoff to set new guidelines for how local elected officials participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund would forbid future county board members from participating at all.
Senate Bill 2701, which cleared the Senate, requires local elected officials participating in IMRF to keep records of their hours worked to ensure they are meeting the annual requirement of either 600 or 1,000 hours a year. But an amendment filed in the House by state Rep. Jack Franks, who helped instigate an ongoing IMRF investigation of the McHenry County Board’s work hours, would abolish IMRF pension eligibility altogether for members of county boards elected after this year.
Althoff, R-McHenry, said that Franks, D-Marengo, called her beforehand, and that she is OK with the change because a number of county boards in the wake of the IMRF audit are examining whether to end pension participation on their own.
They include the McHenry County Board, which is drafting a resolution to withdraw its members from the program.
“Most boards are understanding that there is a requirement of time spent. I think we are going to see the same result without the legislation,” Althoff said.
Should the House pass the bill, it will have to go back to the Senate for concurrence on the amendment before it is sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner for his signature.
Franks, who last Sunday announced his candidacy for McHenry County Board chairman, touched off a political firestorm in February when he asked the IMRF to investigate whether the County Board members, all but a few of whom are enrolled in IMRF, are working the required 1,000 hours a year to qualify for pensions. State law sets a 600-hour standard, but allows local governments to set a higher 1,000-hour standard, which the County Board did in 1997.
Althoff filed her bill in response to the investigation with the aim of requiring county, township and municipal elected officials who want to participate in IMRF to properly document their hours.
The IMRF’s policy manual states that barring “highly unusual circumstances,” officials elected to county, township or municipal boards that have imposed the 1,000-hour threshold – which averages out to 20 hours a week for 50 weeks – will not qualify for pensions. But all but a handful of the County Board’s 24 members are enrolled.
County Board member Michael Walkup, who is the Republican nominee for the first-ever chairman election, called Franks’ move a political ploy, pointing out that his amendment targets only county boards and not people elected to municipalities or townships.
Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, said the resolution to remove the County Board from IMRF likely will start going through the appropriate committees early next month. He publicly spoke in favor of withdrawing elected board members from IMRF at the board’s May 3 meeting.
“This whole thing has been a political ploy because he specifically aimed [the IMRF investigation] at McHenry County, although a lot of counties do the same thing. A lot of municipalities and townships do the same thing, but his amendment doesn’t target them.”
Franks rejected the idea that he amended Althoff’s bill as part of an election campaign. He pointed out his successful efforts in past years to strip appointees to the Chicago-area mass-transit boards of their pensions and benefits for part-time work.
“I’ve done this before with other part-time boards. I’ve got the strongest pedigree on this in the entire state. I’ve been the guy fighting against this,” Franks said.
County Board members currently enrolled in IMRF cannot have their pensions ended or their future accrual terminated because of the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution. While most members are paying into the system, board members elected since 2011 must put in 10 years before becoming vested.