WOODSTOCK – Without a word of comment, all 24 members of the McHenry County Board voted to end participation in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund for themselves and those elected after them.
The unanimous vote, part of the routine consent agenda, eliminates IMRF eligibility effective Dec. 1, with the new county fiscal year and the seating of the new board after the Nov. 8 election. The resolution not only eliminates pension eligibility for new members, but also ends the accumulation of credit for pensions for existing members, including the elected chairman.
Prodded by a still-ongoing investigation by the IMRF into whether County Board members are working the required 1,000 hours a year to qualify for pensions, Tuesday’s vote comes as a bill eliminating IMRF for all county boards statewide is headed for Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.
County Board member Andrew Gasser, who rejected taking an IMRF pension and publicly spoke out in favor of ending them for board members, lauded the approval of the resolution.
“It’s a great thing that this happened,” said Gasser, R-Fox River Grove. “There are many of us on this County Board who have quietly tried to remove the politician pension from the County Board, and this is the culmination of not just removing new [members], but removing all pensions from the County Board except from those who are vested.”
The IMRF investigation was prompted earlier this year by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who asked the fund to look into whether County Board members, all but a handful of whom had signed up to receive the pension, were working the required hours. He also authored the amended Senate bill that seeks to strip county board pensions statewide.
But Franks said he still wants to ensure that County Board members who have accrued service time toward a pension or are already vested have done so legitimately, and can prove they work 1,000 hours a year. Franks, who has butted heads with the McHenry County Board for years over reform initiatives he has wanted it to implement, is now running for board chairman against Republican candidate and board member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake.
“This is a good first step, but they still have a lot of explaining to do,” Franks said. “This won’t go away. They have to answer the question, and if they can’t, they have to be removed [from IMRF].”
Officials elected to county, township and municipal governments that have adopted a 1,000-hour standard, as the McHenry County Board did in 1997 for themselves and county government employees, will not meet the 1,000-hour threshold, barring “highly unusual circumstances,” according to IMRF rules.
Government officials and employees who enrolled in IMRF before 2011 need eight years to be vested – that threshold increased to 10 years in 2011 as part of a pension reform package approved by state lawmakers. Eight County Board members have served long enough to be vested, and at least two others are vested through previous government jobs. Members who are not vested can apply their time accumulated to date to future government jobs that are IMRF eligible.
Wonder Lake anti-tax activist Bob Anderson addressed the County Board before the vote and asked members to also eliminate health insurance benefits for elected members as well.
The IMRF was first led to examining County Board members’ eligibility by a tip from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which was upset with the board’s symbolic 2015 vote to back Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda.”
That resolution of support was withdrawn under a deal with the union to drop its lawsuit against the County Board. The lawsuit had alleged that board members who met with Rauner before the vote violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.