A look at local layers of Illinois government
By Mike Danahey email@example.com May 21, 2012 9:46PM
Fox River Water Reclamation District off of Raymond Street in Elgin. A move to have voters elect trustees for the Fox River Water Reclamation District instead of having them appointed by local state legislators may be dead in the water. May 21, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 2, 2012 8:05AM
ELGIN — A move to have voters elect trustees for the Fox River Water Reclamation District instead of having them appointed by local state legislators may be dead in the water.
But its chief sponsor, state Rep. Keith Farnham, D-Elgin, says he still wants to look at cutting back on the perks enjoyed by them and others who hold office in some of the hundreds of similar governmental bodies in Illinois.
Farnham said House Bill 3895 — to have trustees of the district known as FRWRD elected — made it through the house in late March. But, he added, “It will probably die in the Senate. The Republicans don’t want it.”
The bill currently is stalled in committee, he said.
It would require that starting with the 2015 municipal election, the board of trustees for FRWRD would be directly elected by the voters. Sitting board members whose terms do not end in 2015 would serve out the remainder of their appointed terms. Two trustees would be elected in the 2015 election, and three trustees would be elected in the following municipal election so terms would be staggered.
Trustees would serve four-year terms. The elections would be nonpartisan, like those for local school boards and municipalities.
According to the FRWRD website, the Fox River Water Reclamation District provides wastewater treatment to more than 150,000 residents in Elgin, South Elgin, West Dundee and portions of Sleepy Hollow, Streamwood, Hoffman Estates and unincorporated St. Charles Township.
The five FRWRD trustees are appointed to three-year terms by a majority of the seven state legislators who represent the service area. Rules put in place in 2007 require that no more than three Democrats or three Republicans serve on the board.
Farnham said part of the reason he wanted the FRWRD trustees to be elected is accountability with its expenditures. He thinks the recent appointments of former state senator Steve Rauschenberger and Art Malm to the board will help address that issue.
The new members take the place of Ernest Ludwig and Jason Hughes. They are serving along with Ben Bernal, Ken Cornellisen, and Elgin businessman Bruce Corn, who is the board’s president.
In lieu of the FRWRD-related bill, Farnham said he is looking into proposing legislation this fall that would take away perquisites that can go with serving on the myriad boards of all sorts across Illinois, namely health and welfare benefits and participating in pension plans.
In the case of FRWRD, the members, who meet twice a month, are paid $14,400 annually for their services and can get health insurance and participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund through the district.
Corn, a Republican, said he would serve even without the extra benefits, but he noted they are allowed by the Sanitary Act of 1917, which led to the creation of bodies such as FRWRD.
As for accountability, Corn said it has been there for the most part, and to that end the board is adopting rules for travel and related expenses similar to what state legislators have.
Regarding Farnham’s fall plan, Corn noted that state legislator jobs originally were intended to be part-time, too, taking up about 17 weeks a year in session, and that they come with perks, too.
Corn has been with FRWRD for 14 years. He said that if Farnham and other politicians behind making the district board elected were serious about reform, they would have proposed such actions be applicable for all entities covered under the Sanitary Act of 1917.
Layer upon layer
All the above points to how labyrinth the layers of government in Illinois are.
According to Brad Hahn, spokesman for State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s office, there are only seven entities labeled “water reclamation districts” in Illinois, but 199 taxing districts that deal with water. Other identifiers include water commission, sanitary district, water service district, public water district, and water authority.
Among the seven:
The Rock River Water Reclamation District in Rockford has a five-member board with members nominated by the Winnebago County Board chairman and approved by county board members. It meets once a month.
The Flagg Creek Water Reclamation District in Burr Ridge has a three-member board of trustees who are elected and meet once a month.
The Fox Metro Water Reclamation District in Oswego is appointed by state legislators. There are five members, who meet once a month.
The Mill Creek Water Reclamation District in Geneva has three members appointed by the Kane County Board. Members meet once a month.
The Otter Creek Water Reclamation District of South Elgin has three members who are appointed by the Kane County Board and who meet quarterly.
Northern Moraine Wastewater Reclamation District in Island Lake has five members appointed by the Illinois General Assembly and meets once a month.
The Metro Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago elects its nine members and meets twice a month.
Things are just as complex in Kane County, where the county clerk’s office has the following water-related bodies listed: Fox Metro Water Reclamation District; Grand Prairie Sanitary District; Lake Marian Conservancy District; Mill Creek Water Reclamation District; Otter Creek Water Reclamation District; Wasco Sanitary District; Sugar Grove Water Authority; Burlington Township Solid Waste; Campton Township Solid Waste Disposal System Planning (DSP); Plato Township Solid Waste DSP; Rutland Township Solid Waste DSP; and Virgil Township Solid Waste DSP.
According to information provided by the clerk’s office, only Wasco elects trustees; Fox Metro and FRWRD are appointed by state legislators; Lake Marian and Plato are appointed by the Kane County Board; and Sugar Grove and Virgil trustees are appointed by township supervisors.
NIU political science professor Matt Streb told The Courier-News earlier this year that having elections for such relatively obscure offices offers example of what he calls hyper-democracy.
“Many people support electing numerous offices and believe that not doing so is undemocratic,” Streb said.
But casting a ballot for a post the voter has little or no idea about raises its own set of issues, campaign financing being chief among them. Someone who can put money into such a race might have an advantage in the name recognition he or she can create among voters who are hard-pressed to follow all the levels of government for which they now vote, Streb noted.
Corn agreed with Streb’s observation. He wondered about how much it would cost to run for the FRWRD board and expressed concerns about how much influence someone with deep pockets with vested interests in the process could have on the election.
“It’s good that (HB 3895) is dead,” Corn said. “It would have caused a lot of problems.”