McHenry County Board members voted to indefinitely table a proposal to require all members who use taxpayer-funded health benefits to submit a written statement each year signifying that they worked at least 1,000 hours, which is about 20 hours a week.
In Wednesday morning’s Administrative Services Committee meeting, the proposal, which was introduced by District 5 board member Carlos Acosta, received hearty criticism from board members who said the resolution’s language was opinionated, inaccurate and even “prejudicial.”
“I don’t like assumptions. I don’t like opinions. I like verifiable, correct information when I vote to approve resolutions,” District 1 board member Yvonne Barnes said.
District 2 board member Carolyn Schofield said the resolution contained “inaccuracies” because it asserted that board members should be held accountable to working a minimum threshold of 20 hours a week to receive health benefits.
“That 20 hours keeps being brought up, but nobody seems to find where that 20 hours is coming from,” Schofield said. “I don’t really keep track of my time. I mean it varies, some weeks it’s very low, but then there’s a two-week period of the month where it’s extremely high.”
District 3 board member Lori Parrish agreed with Schofield, stating that she was working “60 to 70 hours a week” at her main job when she decided to join the County Board and never saw anything to support the assertion that members must work 20 hours each week.
“It does vary and we all choose to do this role differently, to show up and be the best board member that we can,” Parrish said.
In response, Acosta said he based this threshold off of what the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund required back when County Board members still received pensions.
District 4 board member Kay Bates called the resolution “prejudicial” against board members who choose to use the county’s taxpayer-funded health and dental insurance.
Schofield, Bates and a few other board members seemed to take particular issue with the resolution’s language in paragraphs four through six.
According to paragraph four of the resolution, some members choose to accept county health benefits, despite having access to insurance either through Medicare or through other employment. Paragraphs five and six juxtapose the importance of board members proving they are earning their benefits with the current economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So many of our constituents are struggling financially and have lost their insurance benefits because of the COVID-19 pandemic; and McHenry County’s unemployment rate stands at 13.3% as of May 2020, an almost fourfold increase since the start of the year,” according to the resolution.
This mention of COVID-19 should be seen as an emotional manipulation rather than relevant context as the resolution is not likely to save taxpayers money if approved, Schofield said.
There have been two attempts in the past few months to pass resolutions requiring board members accepting health benefits to fill out timesheets, each unsuccessful, Acosta said. The first was in the board’s May Committee of the Whole meeting and then the proposal was reintroduced for discussion in the Administrative Services Committee.
Acosta said that he crafted this latest resolution to be less intrusive than a timesheet while still providing transparency and accountability into this benefit, given that other county employees must meet a much higher threshold to be eligible for the same insurance.
“It’s just another layer of documentation that we, as public officials, would be expected to do,” he said.
Bates pointed out that there is already a good deal of transparency into how board members spend their time. Schofield echoed this point, stating that meeting attendance charts are made available on the county’s website.
Ultimately, Parrish filed a motion to table the resolution indefinitely, rather than vote on it. There was a brief moment of confusion as the committee’s chairwoman, Michele Aavang of District 6, asked whether the resolution might be amended and reintroduced for further discussion.
Acosta said he would be willing to strike or rewrite paragraphs four through six and eight if needed. Parrish maintained that she did not want the resolution to go forward for discussion in the upcoming Committee of the Whole meeting even if amended.
Schofield seconded the motion to table the resolution indefinitely and the motion carried by a narrow margin of four to three.
Initially, Bates voted along with Schofield, Parrish, Barnes and District 2 board member Suzanne Ness to table the proposal. Upon hearing that the motion to table was indefinite, Bates said that she misunderstood and asked to change her vote.
Earlier in the discussion, Bates said that she didn’t have a problem with the subject matter of the proposal, but rather with the negative manner in which it was written.
The committee was slated to discuss a second proposal on health benefits proposed by District 1 board member Michael Vijuk on Wednesday, but the resolution was withdrawn. Vijuk’s proposal would have required that members who use county health insurance switch over to Medicare once they are eligible in an effort to reduce the benefits program’s burden on taxpayers.
Parrish said she was glad to see that the resolution regarding Medicare was removed from the agenda and encouraged board members to focus on the “conversation we should be having.”
Parrish was referring to what multiple board members called a “comprehensive conversation on compensation” – a conversation that was first brought up six years ago, Schofield said.
Many board members have said that the compensation of board members should be rehashed after the county receives the results of the 2020 Census and McHenry County can be redistricted appropriately, Vijuk said.
Given that an Illinois state statute mandates that salaries of elected officials can only be modified at least six months before they take office, delaying this conversation until after a lengthy redistricting process ending in late spring 2022 could delay the conversation for another four years after that, he said.
“If we wait until 2022 then those people elected in 2022, we would not change their entire compensation package, if the board wishes, until 2026 so now we’re looking at the potential of six more years added to your six years [directed at Schofield] which would be 12 years of this discussion,” Vijuk said.
Vijuk then posed a question to the committee chairwoman and other board members on whether there could be a way to shorten the incredibly lengthy process around this conversation, stating that in 2026 he will be “a great deal older.”
In response, Schofield said that she has advised that the conversation be had in spring 2021 so that any changes made to County Board members’ compensation would be applicable to all the current members at that time as well as new members elected in 2022.