Chicago Election Commissioners Receive Full-Time Salaries and Benefits for Very Part-Time Jobs

 

 Big Bucks for Little Work

According to the Cook County Budget, Chicago Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal is paid a yearly salary of $91,223. Election commissioners Richard Cowen and Marisel Hernandez each rake in $77,798 from Cook County taxpayers every year. Cook County taxpayers also fund the three Chicago election commissioners’ Medicare and medical insurance. Since Illinois politicians hand out generous pensions to themselves and their cronies, you can be sure that the Chicago election commissioners will also receive a fat pension, depending on their annual salary when they retire.

In fact, if Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal collects a fully vested pension based on his current salary of $91,223 for part-time work, Neal will take home a pension of $73,000 a year for the rest of his life. If commissioners Cowen and Hernandez are awarded fully vested pensions based on their current part-timer salaries of $77,798, they will each receive a pension of $62,238 a year for the rest of their lives. In addition, taxpayers will pay a good portion of Neal, Cowen, and Hernandez’s medical insurance when they retire as election commissioners.

The big question is, How many hours do Chicago election commissioners work each year to earn their hefty salaries, benefits, and pensions? No one, including the commissioners themselves, really knows or can prove the exact number of hours Chicago election commissioners work. In response to my Freedom of Information request, the Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE) said that Chicago election commissioners do not maintain time sheets or any other records for the amount of hours worked each year.

The state law that created Illinois election boards and commissioners does not specify election commissioners’ salaries or require that they maintain time sheets. Therefore, the minutes of CBOE public board meetings are the next best thing to Chicago election commissioner time sheets.

The CBOE held 31 board meetings in 2010; 23 board meetings in 2011; and 13 board meetings so far in 2012. Election commissioners are supposed to conduct all of their official CBOE business at public meetings unless they are independently reviewing past board meetings or preparing for new ones.

Public records also provide the length of time each board meeting lasts. A typical CBOE board meeting lasts between 45 and 60 minutes, but some past board meetings took as long as several hours or were as short as 12 minutes. You can read the minutes of CBOE board meetings by clicking here. After you open the minutes of a particular meeting, you’ll see the time the board meeting started listed at the top of the minutes and the time the board meeting ended posted at the bottom. The importance of the CBOE maintaining minutes of its board meeting suggests there is a better way to compensate election commissioners.

Instead of paying election commissioners a yearly salary and benefits, New York City has more reasonable and equitable compensation arrangements. Since, as in Chicago, nearly all election commissioners’ responsibilities and duties are performed at public meetings, New York City pays each one a $3,000 stipend for each election board or committee meeting that a commissioner attends. However, NYC election commissioners cannot earn more than $30,000 each year for performing their election commissioner duties (also see section below, “Chicago Election Commissioners’ Salaries Compared to Those of Others”).

So Few Hours, So Much Money

Let’s give the Chicago commissioners the benefit of the doubt and assume their average meeting is 1.5 hours long. When I was in college, my professors encouraged me to study two to three hours at home for every hour of classroom lecture. Now let’s generously assume that each election commissioner prepares 4.5 hours for every 1.5 hour board meeting that he or she attends. The 1.5 hours of an average board meeting plus the 4.5 hours in preparation before the board meeting equals 6 hours of election commissioner work for each board meeting an election commissioner attends.

In 2010 Chicago election commissioners held 31 meetings. Based on the formula above, Chicago election commissioner Langdon Neal worked 186 hours for his $91,223 salary in 2010 (31 board meetings x 6 hours = 186 hours). That’s about $490 per hour! Election commissioners Richard Cowen and Marisel Hernandez also put in 186 hours for their 2010 wages of $77,798. That’s about $418 per hour!

In 2011 election commissioner Neal worked a mere 138 hours for his $91,223 salary (23 board meetings x 6 hours = 138 hours). Commissioners Cowen and Hernandez each received $77,798 in 2011 for their scant 138 hours of work. Because the CBOE commissioners worked less last year, Neal earned approximately $660.00 per hour and Cowen and Hernandez received about $560.00 per hour in 2011.

No doubt the three Chicago election commissioners will claim they worked more hours to earn their salaries; however, they will have no evidence or proof to back up their claims. Since election commissioners do not maintain time sheets, they can’t really parry speculation about the small number of hours they work for their large salaries.

Chicago Election Commissioners’ Salaries Compared to Those of Others

In addition to the scant number of hours Chicago election commissioners work for their salaries and benefits, a comparison of election commissioners’ salaries with those of other jurisdictions also shows Chicago commissioners’ to be vastly overpaid. Eight out of the 108 Illinois election authorities have an election board with three election commissioners, same as Chicago. Table 1 compares Chicago election commissioner salaries with the election commissioner salaries of the eight similar Illinois election authorities. (To view all 108 Illinois election authorities, click here and then select “Election Authorities” below the “Search Options.” )

Excluding Chicago, the salaries for an election board chairman range from a high of $27,500 for Dupage County to a low of $2,640 for the city of Galesburg. CBOE Chairman Langdon Neal receives $63,723 more each year than the next highest paid election board chairman in the state of Illinois ($91,223 –$27,500 = $63,723). Excluding Chicago, the average salary for an election board chairman in the state of Illinois is $6,839.00. CBOE Chairman Langdon Neal earns a whopping $84,384 more each year than the average election board chairman in the state of Illinois ($91,223 –$6,839 =  $84,384).

CBOE election commissioners Richard Cowen and Marisel Hernandez receive $50,298 more each year than the next highest paid election commissioner in the state of Illinois ($77,798 –$27,500 = $50,298.00). CBOE election commissioners Richard Cowen and Marisel Hernandez receive $71,006 more each year than the average election commissioner in the state of Illinois ($77,798 –$6,792 = $71,006).

Table 1: Comparisons of Election Commissioner Salaries

Illinois City or County Election Authority

Election Board Chairman’s Salary

Election Board Commissioner’s Salary

City of Chicago

$91,223

$77,798

Dupage County

$27,500

$27,500

City of East St. Louis

$4,689

$4,689

City of Aurora

$3,669

$3,669

City of Rockford

$3,529

$3,200

City of Peoria

$3,200

$3,200

City of Danville

$2,645

$2,645

City of Galesburg

$2,640

$2,640

Average Election Board Chairman and Commissioner’s Salary, excluding Chicago

$6,838

$6,791

When you look at Table 1 above, keep in mind that according to Illinois law, Chicago election commissioners have the same duties and responsibilities as that of all the other lesser paid election commissioners in the state of Illinois.

More Election Commissioner Salary Comparisons

Chicago election commissioners receive significantly higher pay than the election commissioners who are responsible for all 108 election authorities in the entire state of Illinois (Table 2). Each year CBOE Chairman Langdon Neal earns $32,782 more than the Illinois State Board of Elections chairman ($91,223 –$58,441 = $32,782). Election Commissioners Richard Cowen and Marisel Hernandez earn $40,227 more each year than the people who serve as election commissioners for the Illinois State Board of Elections ($77,798 –$37,571 = $40,227).

New York City election commissioners and Chicago election commissioners have nearly identical duties and responsibilities. Yet Chicago election commissioners make from $47,798 to $61,223 more per year than New York city election commissioners ($77,798 –$30,000 = $47,798 and $91,223 –$30,000 = $61,223). Furthermore, New York city election commissioners do not receive additional benefits and pensions like Chicago election commissioners.

Table 2: More Election Commissioner Salary Comparisons

Election Authority

Chairman’s Salary

Commissioner’s Salary

City of Chicago

$91,223

$77,798

State of Illinois

$58,441

$37,571

New York City

$3,000 for every board and committee meeting a commissioner attends. Max salary is $30,000 $3,000 for every board and committee meeting a commissioner attends. Max salary is $30,000

The disparity between the salaries of Chicago election commissioners and election commissioners in the state of Illinois and New York City speaks volumes. Are Chicago election commissioners so superior that they’re worth that much more money than other election commissioners, or are Chicago election commissioners highly paid for some other reasons? The repeated accusations that the CBOE denies the voting rights of candidates and citizens suggests that the CBOE commissioners are highly compensated for using their election authority to help politicians affiliated with the Chicago political machine retain their political offices.

Election Commissioners Do Not Struggle to Pay Their Bills Like Most People

Here are some other comparisons that show the outrageousness of the three Chicago election commissioners’ salaries. According to the Census Bureau, the per capita Chicago income is $27,148. Each year CBOE Chairman Langdon Neal earns $64,075 more for his part-time work than the average Chicagoan ($91,223 –$27,148 = $64,075). Election commissioners Richard Cowen and Marisel Hernandez earn $50,650 more each year for their part-time work than the average Chicago resident ($77,798 –$27,148 = $50,650). What’s worse, Chicago taxpayers, whose incomes are considerably less than the election commissioners’, are the ones who pay for the election commissioners’ generous salaries for part-time work, benefits, and pensions.

According to the 2011 City of Chicago budget, there are 124 full-time employees at the CBOE. Full-time CBOE employees are scheduled to work 2,080 hours per year, not counting time off for holidays, sick days, vacation, etc. Of the 124 full-time CBOE employees, 8 earn more money than CBOE Chairman Langdon Neal’s $91,223 yearly salary. Another 8 CBOE employees make more money than election commissioners Richard Cowen and Marisel Hernandez’s $77,798 salary. Thus 108 CBOE employees earn less than the CBOE commissioners who work only 140 to 190 hours a year compared to their 2,080 hours. Imagine how those 108 CBOE employees must feel about their bosses making more money than them by working 1/12th the number of hours per year.

No Wonder the City of Chicago and Cook County are Broke

Recently the City of Chicago and Cook County claimed they saved $33.4 million as a result of combining city and county services. Some of the $33.4 million spending reduction came as a result of the Chicago Board of Elections and Cook County Clerk sharing human resources and services. In presidential election years the cooperation between the CBOE and county clerk is expected to save local governments $5.6 million. But in spite of the successful spending cuts, Cook County still has a $267.5 million budget shortfall for 2012. Cook County pays $423,893 each year in salaries and benefits for the executive director and three election commissioners who work at the CBOE. For Cook County to pay these salaries and benefits is completely unnecessary.

The City of Chicago and Cook County could save a lot more money if the Cook County Clerk takes over all the duties and responsibilities of the CBOE. There will be an immediate savings of $423,893 each year as a result of eliminating the CBOE executive director and three commissioners’ salaries. There is a precedent in Illinois and the entire United States for assigning the county clerk the responsibility for conducting elections for the city as well as the county.

Remember, 100 of the 108 Illinois election authorities are currently using county clerks to conduct their elections. The same trend holds for the rest of the United States. All across America, city or county clerks are usually in charge of elections. Given the recent cooperation between the CBOE and the County Clerk’s office, with the ensuing savings, assigning the Cook County Clerk’s office the responsibility of conducting elections makes more sense now than ever before. Click here to read a second article on the advantages of combining the CBOE and Cook County Clerk’s office.

The payment of the three CBOE commissioners’ salaries and benefits exemplifies mismanagement of Cook County employees and funds. Furthermore, Illinois Ethics Act 5 ILCS 430 5/5 C requires State of Illinois employees to document with time sheets the hours they work. The City of Chicago and Cook County also require time sheets to document the number of hours public employees work. The only public employees who are exempt from filling out time sheets are elected officials, such as Mayor Emanuel and  Chicago’s 50 aldermen, though the mayor and aldermen’s staffs are required to sign time sheets.

The public has a right to know how many hours the three CBOE commissioners have worked for their salaries, benefits, and pensions since the day they were appointed. Their failure to supply this information is exacerbated by the three CBOE commissioners’ failure to attend ethics training each year as Illinois state and Cook County legislators intended. However, all three CBOE commissioners submitted their Statement of Economic Interests, which means the commissioners know about Cook County and Illinois ethics laws. Given that the CBOE commissioners filed their Statement of Economic Interests, but did not submit time sheets or attend ethics training classes shows the election commissioners are extremely duplicitous and manipulative.

The three CBOE commissioners’ failure to complete time sheets is a serious breach of ethics. Of course, had they documented their work using time sheets, Cook County budget analysts could have easily determined that the election commissioners are being paid full-time salaries—far beyond the range of their Illinois counterparts–for very part-time work.