Tom Kacich: Government transparency? Not everywhere
Three years ago, Illinois lawmakers tried to instill more transparency in local government, requiring many bodies to annually post on their websites compensation packages for employees that exceeded $75,000.
But by one estimate, most of the approximately 3,000 units of government aren't obeying the law.
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Locally, some have followed the requirements of Public Act 97-0609 — which passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously — to the letter of the law. Some have even exceeded the requirements, posting the compensation of all of their public employees.
But others, including the cities of Champaign and Danville and the village of Savoy, have done a poor job of maintaining the records on their websites. (Champaign's site has the employee compensation numbers for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012, but not for more recent years, including the one that began Tuesday).
And at least two local governments with websites refuse to post the information online, instead requiring citizens to go to their offices to look up the information.
The Champaign Park District says on its site: "In accordance with Illinois Public Act 097-0609, the Champaign Park District has posted the total compensation package for each employee having a total compensation package that exceeds $75,000 per year. The report may be viewed in the Human Resource Manager's office at the Bresnan Meeting Center, 706 Kenwood Rd., Champaign, IL 61821."
(The park district leadership reversed itself last week, however. Executive Director Joe DeLuce said that after conferring with park board President Joe Petry, "We are going to get it online ASAP." On Thursday morning, the information was posted online).
The Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District says that its "report is posted at the District's Administration Building, 1100 E. University Avenue, Urbana, IL during regular business hours from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday."
The Champaign school district discloses the compensation for nearly 100 positions, but doesn't identify who occupies the positions. For example, one of seven people called "director" has a total compensation of $130,772, while another "director" has a compensation of $86,942.
How's that for open government?
"I would say that more than 50 percent of the local governments that we've looked at, which are usually the bigger ones, are not in compliance with one of the posting requirements or another," said Brian Costin, director of government reform for the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. "The bigger the local government agency, the more likely they have it online, generally. But there are still a lot of agencies that are not posting the information."
Costin called the demand by the park district and sanitary district — that citizens go to their headquarters to view the report — "kind of a cop-out.
"If you're going to go through that effort, just put it online," he said. "This is a public document that the public has a right to see. You shouldn't be acting in a manner that in my mind makes it look like you're trying to hide something."
Meanwhile, many governments appear to hide the information under vague or mundane links. The Urbana Park District, for example, puts the information under this lifeless link: "Illinois Public Act 097-0609-FY14.pdf."
The Vermilion County Board puts it under this inviting link: "Misc Public Notices."
That's not as bad as the city of Danville or the village of Savoy, which haven't posted the reports.
Costin said he believes the law needs improvement, and it needs to be enforced by the attorney general's office.
"The law says that you're supposed to post the total compensation package for employees making over $75,000 a year but that total compensation package definition in the law isn't actually the total compensation package," he said. "For example, the biggest debate we're having in Illinois now on the state and local level is about pensions. But you don't have to post the pension contribution in the total compensation package. So you're talking $10, 15, 20,000 a year in total compensation that isn't disclosed in the total compensation package."
It's worth noting, though, that some local governments, such as Champaign County, do report pension contributions.
"Another thing it doesn't include is overtime payments," Costin said. "And that's a big part of the problem because these numbers are just projections. It's not an actual reflection of what has happened. It's a budget, it's a projection of what's going to happen in the coming year. And we need to deal with noncompliance."
Costin wants a change in the law to cover all compensation, without defining what total compensation is.
"So any form of compensation — even if we haven't thought up every category — this law would require they disclose it. It wouldn't just be limited to people making $75,000 or more. It would be every employee," he said.
"The bottom line is that Illinois has corruption problems, it has budget problems and it has public participation problems. And online transparency is something that could benefit all of those problems in Illinois. I'd really like to see local governments doing a better job, not just the bare minimum, or not even doing the bare minimum."
Links to some of the total compensation reports by major local governments in the area:
— Champaign County: 41 employees with total compensation of $100,000 or more; 101 with total compensation of more than $75,000.
— Vermilion County: Three employees have total compensation of greater than $100,000; four more have total compensation of greater than $75,000).
— City of Danville: No report found.
— City of Champaign: Out-of-date report, but most recent report posted — for year to June 30, 2013 — showed about 245 employees who had total compensation of more than $100,000. Most of them were police and firefighters, with large pension payments.
— Champaign school district: Positions are reported, but not the names of the people holding the positions. Nineteen administrators had total compensation of greater than $100,000; 71 more had total compensation of more than $75,000. Most teachers are members of Teachers Retirement System, not the IMRF.
— Champaign Park District: Two employees with a total compensation of more than $100,000, four others with more than $75,000.
— Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District: Nineteen employees with total compensation greater than $100,000; 52 more whose compensation is greater than $75,000.
Click on the item "Financial Documents," then "Compensation Report FY2015."
— Champaign-Urbana Public Health District: Report is for prior year. It shows total compensation for all employees. Eleven staff members have total compensation of more than $100,000; 10 more had total compensation of more than $75,000.
— Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District: Report is not posted online. Website notice says, "Public Act 097-0609 requires that, within 6 business days after an employer participating in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund approves a budget, that employer must post the total compensation package for each employee having a total compensation package that exceeds $75,000 per year. The information may be posted at the employer's website or at the principal office of the employer. For purposes of the Act, total compensation package means payment by the employer to the employee for salary, health insurance, a housing allowance, a vehicle allowance, a clothing allowance, bonuses, loans, vacation days granted, and sick days granted. The report is posted at the District's Administration Building, 1100 E. University Avenue, Urbana, IL during regular business hours from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday."
— City of Urbana: Thirteen people listed by name whose total compensation is more than $100,000; 71 more whose compensation is greater than $75,000.
Use the search tool at the top of the city's website and type in "compensation report." http://urbanaillinois.us/government/finance/financial-reports/total-compensation-report
— Urbana Park District: One person with total compensation of more than $100,000; three more with greater than $75,000. Employees are not listed by name, however.
— Urbana school district: The school district does not list teacher salaries — teachers are not under the IMRF system and thus not covered by the law — but it does list the salaries of administrators. The list isn't by name, only by position. Twenty-two administrators make more than $100,000 in total compensation; six more make more than $75,000.
— Village of Mahomet: All positions are listed, although names are not included. No one's compensation is greater than $100,000; two are greater than $75,000). Go to the village home page, click on the "village departments" header, then "Finance and Human Resources," then "FY2015 compensation disclosure per Public Act 097-0609."
— Village of Savoy: No report. Village Manager Dick Helton said it would be posted by the middle of this week.
— Village of Rantoul: All employees are listed. Six have total compensation of more than $100,000; 30 more have compensation of more than $75,000.
Go to the village website, click on "Village Hall" icon, then "Departments," then "Office of the Comptroller," then to the link "Salary & Benefits 2014." Or use this link: http://www.village.rantoul.il.us/DocumentCenter/View/119
— Rantoul City Schoools: The information is not on the school district's web site, said Superintendent Michelle Ramage, but it will be posted when a tech assistant returns to work. She did send a report disclosing that there are three district employees covered by the law, each of whom make between $77,912 and $87,904.
— Rantoul Township High School: No report, but Superintendent Scott Amerio said he believes the district has no IMRF employees whose total compensation is $75,000 or more.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 217-351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.