Lake in the Hills officials defend $11K in expenses for Chicago conference

A village administrator attending a municipal conference is not out of the ordinary, but spending more than $11,000 to send nine people is excessive, one state official said.

Lake in the Hills officials racked up a $11,071.50 bill during the three-day Illinois Municipal League retreat and annual banquet from Sept. 21 to 23. Bills ranged from registration, food, transportation and hotel room costs for two employees and seven elected officials, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, is asking officials to reimburse the village for hotel expenses at the Hilton Chicago Hotel.

Skillicorn spoke out during the village’s Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday.

“For a conference and a banquet so close to home, the idea of staying in a luxury hotel versus taking the train doesn’t seem appropriate to me,” Skillicorn said.

Village President Russ Ruzanski, Village Clerk Crystal Ulen, Finance Director Shane Johnson, ​Village Administrator Jen Clough and Trustees Stephen Harlfinger, Ray Bogdanowski, Bob Huckins, David McPhee and Suzanne Artinghelli attended the conference. Registration fees to attend the conference were $2,790.

Clough said a larger number of people attended this year because four elected officials were new, and Ruzanski is the newly appointed president.

“They are responsible for making important decisions and setting our policies and budget, and they need expertise and education to do so,” Clough said.

The conference takes place annually and is meant to give municipal staff training on topics such as budgeting, zoning codes, economic development and risk management.

The largest expenses for the conference were hotel rooms for $7,156.80 and parking for $1,101.30, according to documents. Four people spent $577.50 on hotel valet parking.

Clough said that by the time many arrived on Thursday of the conference, the self-park area of the hotel was full, and they were told valet parking was all that was left.

The drive from Lake in the Hills Village Hall is an hour and 10 minutes, and a Metra train service is offered in Crystal Lake. Skillicorn said he’d recommend taking the train, which costs $8 each way.

Skillicorn said that when he was a trustee for East Dundee for five years and attended the conference once, he had to handle transportation and hotel costs himself.

Huckins said the conference is included in the village’s budget each year.

“This is a conference this board attends for its training and education. We don’t go there to waste the taxpayers’ money, we go there to learn how to be a better trustee and a better steward for this village,” Huckins said. “I have no problem paying back $1,000, but the benefit that I gain from that is more than $1,000 that was spent by this village.”

Ruzanski and McPhee each were charged $1,052.10 for a three-night stay and valet parking, according to documents.

“Sending nine officials to downtown Chicago – the epicenter of corruption, waste, fraud and abuse – to hear from Springfield lobbyists is not appropriate,” Skillicorn said. “They should be listening to their local constituents.”

In comparison, Cary spent $925.25 and sent three people, Village Administrator Jake Rife said. Algonquin spent $330 and sent one person, Assistant Village Manager Mike Kumbera said.

Harlfinger said the Illinois Municipal League has been in existence since 1913, and most municipalities are part of it.

He said that IML sends information of what the state is doing in regard to governing, dollars spent and information it would like representatives to share, but it never gets updates.

“For you to be a trustee at one point, and now state representative, and you’ve probably never set foot in Lake in the Hills – and now you try to criticize what we do with a very unique budget,” Harlfinger said. “Why don’t you try to concentrate on trying to help this village? What have you ever done for the village of Lake in the Hills besides go on a witch hunt for their board members?”

Harlfinger also brought up the point that Skillicorn receives a $111 budget a day when he is in Springfield. Skillicorn said he shares rooms with other legislators in order to save money.

Liz Wakeman, a Lake in the Hills resident and former trustee, thanked the trustees for taking the time to go. She said that when she attended the conference, she went for the full time and paid for her own hotel room because she did not have time to travel back and forth and do business.

“A lot of the networking that goes on is after hours, and it is beneficial and crucial to get information from other government officials, so I’d like to thank you for doing that, and I hope the practice of participating continues in the future.”

Ruzanski said that looking ahead, he does not expect the same number of attendees next year, but he feels the training provided is very important.

Other costs included food reimbursement, such as Clough’s $8 Starbucks breakfast, and Johnson expensed $1.80 in Illinois Tollway I-PASS fees.

To end Tuesday’s meeting, trustees discussed sending representatives to a conference for the Parks and Recreation Department in Crystal Lake.

McPhee laughed, “So they won’t need any hotel accommodations?”

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