IMRF revokes pension benefits for 9 attorneys, 3 election commissioners

News-DemocratApril 14, 2014 

AP GRAPHICS BANK

Nine attorneys working for St. Clair County and three members of the East St. Louis Election Commission will not receive taxpayer-funded retirement benefits as the result of an audit by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

But auditors agreed with St. Clair County staff that County Board members each work at least 58 hours a month, enough to make them eligible for a state pension, according to the audit.

The Belleville News-Democrat received a copy of the audit through the Freedom of Information Act.

County employees, including the part-time County Board members, must work more than 600 hours annually to participate in the retirement fund. Civil attorneys must meet additional requirements, such as not working for a private law practice.

Six civil attorneys, two assistant state's attorneys and an assistant public defender will no longer receive retirement benefits. These nine employees together received $7,609 in retirement benefits in 2012 -- the amount the county paid in for them. Part-time civil attorneys, assistant public defenders and assistant state's attorneys also have the option of receiving county-provided medical benefits.

The IMRF accepted certifications from 30 other attorneys attesting they work enough hours to receive retirement benefits.

Those terminated from participating in IMRF will also have their accrued service credit eliminated, according to IMRF Communications Manager John Krupa. Retirement benefits are determined by the amount contributed and length of public service.

All employee contributions made to the retirement plan have been refunded to the county, which will be responsible for distributing the contributions to the employees, Krupa said.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern could not be reached for comment.

The county is required by state statute to compensate the three members of the East St. Louis Election Commission. The commissioners receive an annual salary of $4,689 along with medical and retirement benefits. The county spent $17,420 in medical benefits and $1,611 in retirement benefits combined in 2012.

IMRF relies upon municipal officials to ensure employees meet its standards to participate. The group manages the retirement accounts of more than 3,000 municipalities statewide.

IMRF officials previously determined the county's three part-time jury commissioners could no longer receive retirement benefits because they did not work enough hours.

The county's contributions to employees' retirement funds account for about 14 percent of total property tax revenue collected each year -- more than $4.4 million in 2013.

County Board members

County records show 27 of the 29 members of the St. Clair County Board members received retirement benefits through IMRF in 2012. The two board members that did not receive retirement benefits in 2012 were Curtis Jones, representing part of Belleville, and Ken Sharkey, representing part of Fairview Heights and O'Fallon.

County Board members have an annual salary of about $19,400 and can earn up to nearly $7,300 in retirement benefits per year. Board members also have the option of receiving county-funded health insurance.

The county paid about $171,000 in retirement benefits and about $310,000 in medical benefits to county board members in 2012.

In response to a request from the auditors, St. Clair County Human Resources Director Frank Bergman submitted to IMRF a list detailing the time County Board members devote to their elected position. The list was sent instead of board members signing an IMRF form certifying they worked more than 600 hours in a year.

The list states each board member spends a total of 712 hours annually in the following tasks:

* 15 hours attending special events.

* 12 hours per month in meetings with constituents.

* 10 hours for "constituent services."

* 10 hours for "constituent phone services."

* 7 hours attending committee meetings.

* 6 hours per month in meetings with St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern.

* 5 hours per month attending Zoning Hearings.

* 4 hours attending non-assigned meetings.

* 3 hours per month attending "taxation meetings."

* 1 hour per month attending the County Board meeting, and

* 1 hour attending a budget caucus meeting.

The list is an estimation as each County Board member does not submit a timesheet detailing their work. For example, the length of County Board meetings vary with some only lasting a few minutes.

It is not possible to independently verify the county's claims for the time contributed by each board member.

For example, the county states board members spend seven hours each month attending committee meetings. However, attendance reports for each committee meeting do not reliably include the attendance of board members who are not a member of the committee.

Another factor is the length of time each committee meets, which varies greatly depending on which committee the board member attends, according to the meetings' recorded minutes.

For example, the shortest meeting held in the past year was a meeting of the Grants Committee in September that lasted three minutes. The longest meeting held in the past year was a special meeting of the Judiciary Committee held in June that lasted nearly three hours.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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