Salaries for Countywide and County Board Frozen for Four Years as Republican Board Members Walk Out of Special Meeting

June 4 Board Meeting

Ogalla

By Nick Reiher

Salaries for county offices up for election in November will remain the same since 2008 after Republican County Board members walked out during a vote at a special meeting.

The special meeting was called for June 4, one day ahead of the deadline for setting salaries for countywide and County Board seats up in November.

Clerk Lauren Staley Ferry was calling the roll for a vote that would increase the County Executive’s salary by $3,000 a year to $96,110 after the November election when the nine Republican board members who attended walked out.

After conferring with State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow to determine how to proceed, Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Tatroe said the nine Democrat board members could continue to vote, which would mean a tie.

Although County Executive Jennifer Bertino Tarrant could break the tie, she decided to abstain, saying, “Our goal was to work together.”

The issue of salary increases has been contentious for months, as Republicans did not want to see any increase. Democrats said it was reasonable to consider an increase for countywide offices, which hadn’t increased since 2008, and for County Board members, who receive $23,000 a year.

Traynere

The main combatants in the issue are County Board Chair Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, and Democratic Caucus Leader Jackie Trayner, D-Bolingbrook. Each accused the other of delaying the vote until the 11th hour at Tuesday’s deadline.

Ogalla said at the June 4 special meeting Traynere had refused to meet with her on the salary issue and kept changing the amount of increases.

Traynere said she asked many times during the past year about discussing the salaries, which must be set at least 180 days before the beginning of the terms of officers in December.

“In April, we had nothing on the agenda for the Executive Committee,” she said. And the only meaningful dialogue they had on the salaries was “15 minutes last night and then five minutes this morning. And then she changed the numbers again. You wonder why I changed my numbers?”

Traynere was referring to an amendment to the County Executive salary issue that would have boosted the pay to $100,000, with a 2.5 percent increase each year. That amendment failed.

But it was only moments after Traynere’s retort that Ogalla walked out to the vote on the original salary adjustment, followed by the other eight Republicans.

Ogalla did not respond to a call or a text from Farmers Weekly Review following the walkout. But her Democrat colleagues had plenty to say.

Board Member Joe Van Duyne, D-Wilmington, said the Republicans wasted all their time, including those who took off work for the special meeting. He called the walkout “childish” and “embarrassing.”

Meta Mueller, D-Aurora, said walking out on a vote for offices that had not seen an increase in 16 years was “dereliction of duty.”

Board Member Natalie Coleman, D-Plainfield, said the $23,000 County Board salaries can’t sustain people, especially those who may have families and other jobs they have to miss.

Coleman, who is not running for re-election in November, said the low salaries could be seen as elitist, shutting out people who may want to run, but can’t afford it.

Board Member Sherry Williams, D-Crest Hill, said actions at the special meeting were just another example of disfunction among the board members, one she said she shares as well.

“But not this today.”

Normally reserved Board Member Elnalyn Costa, D-Bolingbrook, exploded in her comments, noting she had traveled 45 minutes from her full-time job, only to see “11 board members walk the F out of here. … Republicans failed us today.”

Bertino-Tarrant issued this statement after the meeting:

“I am beyond disappointed that the Republican Caucus chose to walk out in the middle of a vote during a special meeting called by the County Board, rather than engage in the open and transparent democratic process.”

“This is a repeated pattern of behavior by Board members. It is unsustainable and unprofessional for elected officials to simply walk out of a meeting when they disagree with items being voted on.

“The public expects County Board members to demonstrate leadership and to vote on issues before them. There is no excuse for this behavior.”

Ogalla reached out to Farmers Weekly Review the next morning. She said walking out during the vote was the culmination of frustration with the Democrats, specifically Traynere and Bertino-Tarrant.

“I have had it,” she said. “I am done trying to work with them. I try to have conversations with them, but they always turn it against me.”

She said the walkout during the vote was not planned, but Traynere’s comments, combined with a strained relationship, drove her to the breaking point. She said she isn’t surprised the rest of the Republican board members who attended walked out with her.

“They didn’t want to be there anyway,” she said. “They didn’t want any raises. I didn’t really, either, but I put out some increases for countywides.”

The $3,ooo increase she proposed for the County Board Chair wouldn’t take effect until after the election, she noted, meaning she would not necessarily have benefitted.

Without the vote at the deadline, salaries for countywide offices up for election in November will remain at $93,110, plus a $6,500 stipend from the state. County Board salaries will remain at $23,000.

Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review.

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