On 5/07/04 the Journal Star Editorial Board blasted the Peoria County Board with the headline “County Board Salary Increases Ill-Timed and Too High”. Now here it is July 9, 2006 and County Board members pay is only $200 a year higher than County Board pay in 1983. (Figures taken from a document filed at the County Court House signed by County Board Chairman E. Eugene Johnson along with eight other board members and Ad Hoc Compensation Committee Chairman Barton C. Rochman.) Over 23 years with a raise from $5200 a year to $5400 a year; this is what board members make today. In my position, that’s it, because I have neither pension nor insurance paid for by the taxpayer. No expenses paid to any board member unless you are required to attend an event or required to go out of town.
In small print, the JSEB 2004 article says that the “pay raise does not go into effect until December 2006”. An accompanying article by a JS writer plus a “letter to the editors” from members of the AFSCME stated that the union is “offended”. Scare headlines to the unsuspecting citizens are typical of too many of the media and some of our union representatives. Offended, where is the beef?? How many in the private sector get 33 paid days off after 2 years of employment? (11 holidays, 10 vacations days, 10 sick leave days, mostly used or compensated for later, and 2 or is it 3; personal days.) And a guaranteed pay raise every year? According to published information, less than 30% of private sector employees have a company partially funded pension plan and most companies do not give you 33 days of paid time off after two years of service.
Yes, County Board members who win their elections and those with another two years to serve will get a pay raise effective after the November election. I believe it is taxpayer money well spent. Some of the candidates now running for the board may state that they were just spectators during the landfill application hearings, the racetrack hearings, the adult use hearings, the new sub-division ordnance hearings and the new building code ordnances studies. They could say they never voted to give themselves a raise. Those coming off the board will have not received one dime of what the union and the media accused the board of voting themselves back in 2004. People like me who spend countless hours studying and sorting out fact from fiction earned more than we will ever get paid. Many thinking people I talk to said they would not like to be on the board when hard decisions have to be made.
It will always be a problem to get the best people to run for public office because the attacks by the media are difficult for family and friends to endure. One past prominent member of this community was said by his family to have taken his own life because of relentless attacks on him by the Journal Star. Some medias wait for someone who has a good reputation but who they personally dislike, to make what they conceive to be a major mistake. Then they pounce like the vultures many of them are, often with just enough half truths to persuade the reader of the unworthiness of their victim.
People struggle to make hard decisions especially when they are prone to attacks from and in the media. Reporting the facts without embellishing the story with half-truths most of believe is the job of the media. Sometimes board members may make the wrong decision because it is the “popular” decision, thereby, they believe, escaping criticism.
As I review my extensive files, I wonder why any sane person who has built a good reputation would ever want to stand for public office and be crucified by some media people who couldn’t hold a job in a competitive marketplace. But, occasionally I get a much appreciated letter, e-mail or phone call or a greeting on the street that makes it all worthwhile. I received an email recently from a person I may have met but don’t believe I know. The email simply stated; Mr. Widmer, As always a man that has the courage to stand up and be counted. Good Job!
These small acts of kindness and acknowledgements make all the wear and tear and public abuse worthwhile. And yes, I do plan to be on the Peoria County Board on January 1, 2007.
Thanks again to those of you who know me and support my efforts. You can remind me that the PPD and #150 boards don’t get any pay but pay attention to what is going on in the community. You might find some good arguments to pay board members responsible for running budgets from $50 million to $150 million.