Council members in the City of O'Fallon have won a small victory for public accountability -- although there was never a battle to begin with.
The 14-member panel voted unanimously earlier this month to end its participation in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, which offered pension benefits to retired council members and other municipal officials according to their years of service and total hours they worked annually, even if they only worked part time.
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Mayor Gary Graham said he and many others in O'Fallon, where the council only serves part time, long felt the IMRF program needed fixing.
"Pension funds should be for people who work 32 hours a week, period, the same as the health insurance," Graham said. "So I don't get why they ever let anybody in. I see that as the IMRF having a system that was flawed."
Graham and Administrator Walter Denton each confirm that even through O'Fallon never had any problems with the IMRF, reports a few years ago about how other municipalities in the state had erroneously enrolled for-hire city attorneys in the program left O'Fallon officials re-evaluating their participation in the program.
Graham said most of the council members, or aldermen, had refused to participate in the IMRF over the last several years and at least one of the two city officials who remained enrolled in the program had unsuccessfully tried to withdraw a few years ago. At the time, IMRF officials told the particular alderman he couldn't leave the program unless he left his city post.
Recently, however, the IMRF revised its membership policies and gave O'Fallon officials the out they were looking for, Denton said.
"A few months ago IMRF contacted us and told us that they have a procedure now, and so we contacted those aldermen and they said, 'Yes, we would like to get out,'" Denton said. "So, we prepared the legislation and took care of it."
Graham, who's stood at O'Fallon's helm for the last two decades and is considering another run next year, praises the council's decision to turn away any more of the IMRF's benefits.
"I think it's a good thing, and we tried to get it done before and now it's done," he said.
Graham and Denton both asserted that a recently reported audit of the city by the IMRF was routine.
Municipalities are bound by law to make their required contributions to IMRF, ahead of funding for critical services like road construction or police and fire salaries. A bill awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature would ban all new county board members from applying for a pension through IMRF.