The village of Shiloh spent $10,000 to send seven staff or elected officials to the 103rd annual Illinois Municipal League Conference in Chicago, compared with other area communities that send just two or three people.
Swansea, for example, sent two representatives at a cost to taxpayers of $1,000, and Mascoutah sent four and spent $4,600.
The conference was held Sept. 22-24 at the Hilton Chicago Hotel.
According to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, Shiloh spent a total of $10, 276 for its seven representatives: Mayor James Vernier; Village Administrator John Marquart; Village Clerk Brenda Kern; Trustees Greg O’Neil, Kurt Burrelsman, Colleen Powers and Tina Warchol.
Vernier said the event was expensive, but worth every penny. He noted that while he was at this year’s conference he was able to obtain free legal advice that subsequently saved the village money.
“I was able to go straight to the guy who wrote the book on Illinois liquor commission laws, and that saved us having to pay our village attorney (Terry Bruckert) to do research about it, and having him do research takes time and costs money,” Vernier said.
In an effort to stay fresh on zoning issues, progressive communities and ways to improve our own community, Vernier said he feels elected officials deserve the opportunity to attend.
“There are so many ideas shared at the conference that it’s hard not to come back with some new perspectives or ways to improve our village,” he said.
The majority of tax dollars covering the cost of the conference was pulled from the general fund, Kern said, but some came from the tourism fund.
“It is covered under educational expenses from both funds,” said Bill Boker, village treasurer.
Some receipts from the village staff and elected officials reflected parking payment reimbursements for Sunday, Sept. 25, while others did not.
Shiloh usually sends representatives annually to the conference; however, in past years has sent none or no more than four representatives, according to Kern.
“It fluctuates from year-to-year, in the 25 years I’ve worked for the village, I’ve only been three times, and the mayor probably five or six times, and he was a trustee for many years before his recent 16-year tenure as mayor. So, sending seven is unusual, but not unwarranted because anyone who goes benefits from the new information and recent updates on laws and policies. And, some years we haven’t sent anyone due to scheduling or funding,” Kern said.
IML Executive Director Brad Cole said many communities send their entire city council board to the event, regardless of cost.
“It’s very common to see a full council and some staff to attend,” Cole said. “It’s the one stop shop for all types of training and information, and it’s only once a year.”
Why the windy city?
Kern and Trustee Greg O’Neil echoed the same concerns that the majority of the high cost being attributed to the hotel and parking in Chicago. So why hold it there every year?
O’Neil said the only problem he sees with the high cost of the event’s reimbursement is that it is held in Chicago, “where the taxes on everything are outrageous.”
“I think it’s a good thing for us to attend. I think a lot of money would be saved if it were elsewhere, other than Chicago, though,” he said.
Cole said the venue has been Chicago due to lack of hotel and parking accommodation opportunities elsewhere.
“Chicago is the only city that can handle our attendance capacity, which includes sleeping, meeting and exhibition rooms. If we held the conference in Springfield, for instance, we would probably take up every hotel/motel in town. And, that is the reality of the situation,” Cole said.
The village cost of hotel and parking was a total of $6,770.58, according to FOIA documents. At a rate of $247 a night for a guest room, there are four tax costs totaling 17.4 percent. The Cook County tax is 1 percent, which is $2.47. The Chicago hotel city tax is 4.5 percent, which is $11.12. The hotel state tax is 6 percent, which is $14.82. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) hotel tax is 5.9 percent, which is $14.57.
So, for a three-night stay for the event, a Shiloh representative’s bill ranged from $869.94 to $1,016.94, depending on whether or not he or she parked their own vehicle for a $40 charge each night or opted for the $49 valet parking charge each night. Trustees O’Neil and Powers both claimed $150 each for valet parking, as well as Marquart, who carpooled with Kern. Vernier had the lowest hotel and parking cost at $869; and, coming in second were Burrelsman and Warchol, both claimed $120 for self parking.
Cole said the IML still investigates other possible venues for the event because that factor, alone, could be a game changer for many communities sending more officials in the future.
“We do look at that from time to time because we are understanding of the cost involved,” he said.
Other area municipalities
The City of O’Fallon Administrator Walter Denton said the number of representatives sent annually fluctuates from year to year.
“We have 14 alderman, so we can’t take everyone, but we offer them the chance to go if they like. It’s like a self-select system, but we never limit who can come. Last year we sent two, and this year we had six go, including myself,” Denton said.
This year, O’Fallon sent seven people. Currently, Denton said not all officials have submitted reimbursement claims yet, so estimating expenses covered by the city is unavailable.
Historically, O’Fallon has alderman who attend pay for everything themselves, and then they submit later their receipts for reimbursement, Denton explained.
“In previous years, some, but not all, alderman have requested to be reimbursed for the registration fee and hotel stay, but they will pay for the cost of travel and meals out of their own pocket,” Denton said.
Mascoutah City Manager Cody Hawkins said four people from his municipality attended this year’s IML Conference including himself, the mayor and two councilmen.
“Looking at our expenses it cost us about $4,500 to $4,600 to send us to the conference,” Hawkins said.
Village of Swansea Administrator Lyndon Joost said he and one other from the village attended the IML conference in Chicago that was held at the Hilton. He estimated an approximate cost of just under $1,000 for two representatives to attend.
“Last year probably about four went, and we would’ve sent four this year too because that’s what we budgeted for but there were conflicts with scheduling,” Joost said.
In comparison to Shiloh, Joost said the cost of mileage is negligible, and at the expense of the individual.
“We could use IRS rates for mileage, but we try to keep that cost down if we can,” he said.
Last year he said he used his airline frequent flier miles to cover the cost of his flight to Chicago.
“This year I actually drove my car and shared a ride with the Administrator from Columbia, and we split the cost of gas out of pocket,” Joost explained. “So i think people are looking for ways to minimize that cost to their municipality if they can.”
With a general consensus of the annual conference being a much needed way for municipalities to earn training, Cole confirmed the event draws over 2,000 attendees annually.
“There is a cost to attend and participate, but just like everything — you want your doctor, lawyer and mechanic to be trained on the very latest in knowledge and technology, and that’s what this is for elected officials, and they are running a city and that’s just as important,” Cole said.
Shiloh’s trustee Burrelsman pointed out, “it’s not about how many go or what it costs — it’s about the education of it all.”
“I go because I feel it’s a quality event to broaden my (horizons) on how politics and the inner workings of local government work. I think it’s absolutely worth the effort,” he said.
With over 75 educational sessions on a myriad of topics, Kern said she attended about 10 different forums for her continued education as village clerk.
“It’s a good thing for all of us to go if we can. We learn a lot about new laws or updates to current laws — it’s a great refresher,” she said.
This year is the second time O’Neil has been “fortunate to attend.”
“I attended quite a few sessions this year, and made sure to bring back handouts and notes. I thought the session on video gaming was very interesting,” O’Neil said.
Shiloh Trustee Bob Weilmuenster said he planned to attend, but was unable to due to the death of a close friend.
“Thankfully we were able to recoup the cost of the registration fee ($310) so the village didn’t have to still pay for my spot. O’Neil, and others who attended, provided me with materials after the conference so that I could stay informed,” Weilmuenster said.
He said he went last year and the experience “was phenomenal.”
Trustee Mark Kurtz said he did not go, but did attend a government ethics for public officials course last fall at Southwestern Illinois College that was developed by the office of State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly and SWIC as a way to improve integrity and service in local government.
Kern said, “This educational event is great, especially for trustees to help them be a better member of the board. I attended sessions like municipal tune ups, ethical requirements for public officials, FOIA and OMA updates, roundtable for clerks, women in government and IML handbook question and answer.”
For more information about the event or the Illinois Municipal League, visit https://www.iml.org/.
Shiloh Annual 2016 IML Conference
Here is a breakdown of costs for seven staff and elected officials to attend:
▪ Conference cost $310 each = $2,170
▪ Hotel and parking = $6,770.58
▪ Mileage for four of seven = $1,293.84
▪ Meals = $42.00
Total = $10,276.42