Guest view: Open, accessible government is key for Belleville

July 5, 2013 

An article in the June 23 News-Democrat featured the current assistant city attorney of Belleville arguing for his right to participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. His argument: The past city attorney and assistant city attorney were allowed to enroll in IMRF.

What needs to be answered is how part-time contractual employees are allowed to enroll in IMRF? By law, contractual employees who annually have their contracts approved by the City Council are not eligible to enroll in IMRF. The city clerk has the duty and responsibility in overseeing eligibility for IMRF.

While I was mayor in 1993, we made dramatic changes to how we compensated the city attorney and assistant city attorney. In fiscal year 1992, the city attorney received just over $130,000 for his services. The $130,000 plus included a retainer, secretarial services and his hourly bills for litigation work.

The city attorney had no written contract with the city; the last contract for the city attorney at the time expired in 1981. We fixed the city attorney and assistant city attorney salaries at $62,500 and $32,500 and got rid of hourly billing and secretarial expenses. These changes in how the city of Belleville compensated their attorneys saved the city hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 20 years.

We worked hard to eliminate government waste and perks. When I took office, the 16 aldermen had fully paid health insurance, which we eliminated and has probably saved the city over $1 million over the last 20 years. Also, we eliminated wasteful department heads and the wheel tax.

We believed in working to save citizens money, not working on ways to tax them more.

As mayor what I did not do was interfere with another elected official's duties or responsibilities. The mayor, treasurer and clerk are all separate entities, and the local government version of checks and balances. By Illinois municipal law, these three elected positions must never interfere with each other's office.

It is clear the public has learned more about IMRF pensions in the past few weeks than they have known in the past 20 years. I can assure my knowledge has greatly increased.

Congratulations to the city of Belleville for electing individuals who represent the people and not a party. Open, accessible and transparent government makes every citizen of Belleville a big winner.

Rodger C. Cook, of St. Libory, was mayor of Belleville from 1993 to 1997. His son Dallas Cook is the city clerk.

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