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Illinois' pension chief: Taking pensions away from elected county officials is illegal

Ed Komenda – ekomenda@shawmedia.com
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks speaks at a meeting Tuesday. Louis Kosiba, executive director of the $35.8 billion Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, spoke at the meeting, telling board members and the public that Franks' resolution to cut pensions for elected county officials is illegal.
Ed Komenda – ekomenda@shawmedia.com McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks speaks at a meeting Tuesday. Louis Kosiba, executive director of the $35.8 billion Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, spoke at the meeting, telling board members and the public that Franks' resolution to cut pensions for elected county officials is illegal.

WOODSTOCK – Louis Kosiba, executive director of the $35.8 billion Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, showed up to the McHenry County Board meeting Tuesday night to let board members and the public know Chairman Jack Franks’ resolution to kill pensions for all elected county officials is illegal.

“The rule of law does not mean that laws [that] are inconvenient or inconsistent with one’s point of view can be ignored or overwritten by a form of government,” Kosiba said. “In this case, state law cannot be changed by the action of county or city government.”

Kosiba highlighted Article 13, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution, which states membership in any pension or retirement system of the state, local government or school district is an “enforceable contractual relationship” and the benefits of those pension systems cannot be diminished or impaired.

“I’ve taken the position that to remove elected county officials from IMRF participation is inconsistent with the law,” Kosiba said.

Kosiba shared his opinion during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, where Franks and board members tabled discussion of the pension resolution to give board members time to draft alternative measures to discuss and develop at a later meeting.

“We need to get this right,” Franks said before the County Board tabled the resolution. “In working together, I am confident that we will pass an existing resolution or craft another viable one to address the unsustainable pension obligations that overburden our taxpayers.”

Franks’ resolution would remove IMRF eligibility for the offices of County Board chairman, state’s attorney, county clerk, circuit clerk, treasurer, auditor, recorder, coroner and sheriff. The move would not affect the positions until the end of their terms.

The county’s coroner, recorder and sheriff already have opted out of receiving pensions. Franks said that the resolution is nothing against any elected official in particular; it’s about saving money. Cutting pensions for newly elected officials in those positions would save the county $110,000 a year based on current officeholder’s salaries, Franks said.

The pension debate has been a hot button topic at recent meetings, where some County Board members worried that cutting the pensions of elected officials would be a problem in the courts.

Stripping pensions from elected county officials requires action by the Illinois General Assembly, Kosiba said.

On Oct. 2, Kosiba wrote Franks a letter saying the cancellation of pensions “will not help achieve the good government you seek.”

“Disqualifying these positions from IMRF can be detrimental to good government,” Kosiba wrote. “If you believe these nine positions should not receive a pension through IMRF, then I think your only resort is to seek a legislative change.”

During board members’ comment, District 3 Rep. Michael J. Walkup said he wished that Franks would have shared that letter with County Board members before the resolution popped up at a recent committee meeting at which members did not second a motion to discuss it.

“This is something that was embarked upon in a half-baked, half-thought out fashion, probably simply to garner newspaper headlines,” Walkup said. “Government by grandstand is not good government.”

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