The executive director of the McHenry County Conservation District could earn more than $200,000 in annual compensation, plus benefits, next fiscal year due to a number of lucrative provisions in a contract that first was established in 2010.
Elizabeth Kessler's current contract began with a salary of $143,574, with built-in increases of 2% after the first year and 4% in subsequent years. Although the 2010 contract was only for four years, it allowed the terms to extend every two years.
These raises swelled Kessler's annual compensation to $194,036 for the fiscal year ending in March 2020, according to employee compensation disclosures required by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. This amount is greater than the salary of McHenry County Administrator Peter Austin, who oversees 27 departments, more than 1,000 employees and the salary of the Illinois governor.
Additionally, the contract entitles Kessler to an employer-provided vehicle – including gas, oil and maintenance on the vehicle – a laptop and cellphone, 12 days of sick leave a year, four weeks of paid vacation annually that can roll over, contributions to the IMRF from her employer and health insurance.
The IMRF contribution rate for the fiscal year ending in 2017 was 11.77% for covered payroll, which is about $22,800 based on Kessler's current salary. Annual paid vacation time amounts to about $15,000 a year.
Kessler’s contract was one of several questionable conservation district expenses McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks addressed when he urged board members to reject the district’s 2020 proposed budget, which included more than $200,000 in additional property tax revenue.
“This is an egregious contract that is an affront to the taxpayers,” Franks said. “I’m disappointed the conservation district became rubber stamps instead of watchdogs.”
Should Kessler be terminated other than for cause, her contract states she would be entitled to 12 months' salary, which Franks said was outrageous.
However, when the contract is up for renewal again in June 2020, she should only be entitled to less than half that if she were terminated.
The Government Severance Pay Act, which was signed into law in August, requires renewed contracts to include provisions limiting severance pay to no more than 20 weeks of compensation and prohibiting severance pay if a contract holder was fired for misconduct by their unit of government.
Kessler could not immediately be reached by phone or email Tuesday afternoon.
McHenry County Conservation District Board President Dave Kranz said in an email Tuesday that Kessler has been in her field for 36 years and there is no substitute for her experience.
"[Kessler] is recognized for her collaborative leadership, strong work ethic and as a tireless advocate for conservation, community engagement and responsible and responsive government," Kranz wrote.