URBANA — A long-debated, highly contentious issue among Champaign County Board members came to a resolution Thursday with the approval of an initial $117,269 salary for whoever fills the new county executive position — which will be decided in the November 2018 election.
The salary, approved 12-9, takes effect Dec. 1, 2018, and increases to $122,006 on Dec. 1, 2021. The vote saw board Democrats Pattsi Petrie, Giraldo Rosales and Lorraine Cowart join with all of the Republicans except Max Mitchell in supporting the measure.
This vote has been months in the making and was deferred in August for more time. Other salary proposals — one setting it at $29,274, the other at $70,000 — were rejected.
Before the vote, board member Josh Hartke proposed amending the $117,269 salary to a flat $70,000 for four years with no raises. He said that was a reasonable number based off his experience in private- and public-sector jobs, and that he was trying to split the difference between the highest and lowest salary proposals.
Every Republican except Brooks Marsh, who left the room during voting, along with Democrats Petrie, Rosales and Cowart, voted against the $70,000 amendment.
"I guess some (board members) had some friends they wanted to get a raise for," Hartke said, referring to the two declared county executive candidates — Democrat Darlene Kloeppel and Republican Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten.
The board also voted 12-9 to retain the county administrator position so that person can assist the county executive. All Democrats and Mitchell voted in support.
Marsh noted that the vote on keeping an administrator is nonbinding. The current administrator, Rick Snider, is paid around $130,000 and may not have his contract renewed when it's up in December 2018.
Snider "has applied for a job in Rantoul," Marsh said.
In addition, Marsh noted that board Chairman C. Pius Weibel was paid $29,500 and the board recently voted to lower that amount to $12,000. But he said he mainly supported the six-figure salary because he thinks it won't give the county-executive role a figurehead status.
"What we really need is vision and direction," Marsh said about what the executive should work on. "Mental health, early intervention, incarceration — those are all tied together."
Board member Robert King said elected positions throughout the county are lacking in diversity and a six-figure position could be a barrier to potential candidates who are people of color.
Among the candidates for the job, Kloeppel, who was director of community services for the county's Regional Planning Commission, has said the six-figure amount is too high, while Hulten has spoken in favor of it.
There is only one other county executive in the state, Larry Walsh of Will County. He makes $144,050 a year. Champaign County voters approved creating a partisan county-executive position in last November's election.
Board member Shana Jo Crews was absent for Thursday's votes.