Cook County Board members vote themselves 10% raises, with automatic future pay bumps

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After multiple false starts, Cook County’s 17 commissioners, board president and other elected officials will get significant — and indefinite — salary bumps under a proposal that gained final approval by the County Board Tuesday.

Commissioners voted 13-4 Tuesday to increase compensation for the elected officials by 10%, starting with the new term beginning this December and with increases of up to 3% scheduled annually after that. That approval came despite objection from a civic group over what it says is a lack of transparency on perpetual pay increases.

Those who stand to benefit include Cook County’s board president, sheriff, assessor, clerk, treasurer, circuit court clerk as well as all 17 board commissioners and three members of the Board of Review. The Cook County state’s attorney and chief judge’s office, which are state posts, are not affected.

The no votes were from Commissioners Frank Aguilar, D-Cicero; Sean Morrison, R-Palos Park; and Luis Arroyo Jr. and Dennis Deer, both Democrats from Chicago.

Prior to the vote, the legislation’s chief sponsor told the Tribune that these elected officials — who have not seen any pay increase in two decades — deserve better pay after inflation spiked “astronomically” in those years.

“I’m a full-time commissioner and I had to pull my child out of private school because the cost keeps going up every year, but my salary stays the same,” Commissioner Stanley Moore, D-Chicago, said in a phone interview. “It’s unfair to people who want to do this job and commit full-time efforts to their community.”

Morrison said he voted no because he believes his constituents “overwhelmingly” do not want raises for government officials, but he is open to reexamining the issue during times of less economic hardship.

“It’s not the type of situation that I think we need to be in,” he told the Tribune after the vote. “We have inflation that’s up. People are paying $5 for gasoline. … I do not believe this is the time for it.”

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The idea of elected officials getting their first raises since 2002 didn’t receive pushback from Cynthia Schilsky, president of the Cook County League of Women Voters, but she said she could not support the legislation because of a provision that allows future pay raises with no end date. The Chicago-based Civic Federation’s president, Lawrence Msall, has backed that position.

“We elect these people to serve in their office, and they should be required to be transparent about what they’re saying their salaries are,” Schilsky told the Tribune. “It would be much better, to the point, that they vote on it rather than just have it continue forever.”

Starting in 2023, the elected officials will automatically get either a 3% or inflation-tied salary bump each year, whichever is smaller, and the raises “shall continue until the Cook County Board of Commissioners votes to repeal or amend the annual increase,” according to the legislation’s text.

Rumblings over the potential granting of raises to Cook County officials first appeared in March, when Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, was set to introduce an ordinance amendment bumping up salaries for his fellow elected government heads by 7.05%. But Suffredin, who is not seeking reelection this year so will not receive the raise, said he could not get a majority of commissioners to sign on due to what he believed were concerns partly fueled by potential negative perceptions of granting themselves raises during an election year.

All 17 County Board seats are up for grabs in the November election, but the primary on June 28 could be the bigger factor in many races.

Moore downplayed the concerns over campaign-trail optics but contended the prime reservation was that “anytime you use the word increase, people are fearful that elected officials are making all this money.”

“The truth of the matter is that we have families and children and people to take care of just like everybody else,” Moore said.

Days before he was set to debut the raise proposal, Suffredin held off, to the disappointment of some of his colleagues who are seeking another term. That’s when Moore revived the effort by spearheading a new plan to bump salaries for elected county officials by 10%.

But in May, when the latest legislation was slated for a vote, commissioners again delayed taking up the proposal until this week because of the League of Women Voters’ criticism. Suffredin said he ultimately committed to introducing a new ordinance next month that would call for another pay study by December 2024 and a vote by the end of March 2025 for the following term’s raise schedule.

Commissioners must first approve the raises before a vote on Suffredin’s future legislation because there is an early June deadline of approving compensation adjustments six months before the new term that begins in December, he said.

Schilsky said she welcomes Suffredin’s idea but “our position is unchanged” that the raises approved Tuesday should get a time limit. To that, Moore countered that county employees get an annual cost-of-living increase, so elected officials deserve the same.

“I love my job and in order for me to keep it and to concentrate on it, I have to make a decent salary,” Moore said. “I just felt that it was the right thing to do.”

Under the plan, the board president’s annual salary will be bumped to $187,000 from $170,000, while commissioners will see a hike to $93,500 from $85,000 a year and the board’s finance chair salary will increase to $99,000 from $90,000.

The annual salary for the assessor will be hiked to $137,500 from $125,000, the sheriff’s pay will increase to $176,000 from $160,000, and the salaries for clerk and treasurer will increase to $115,500 from $105,000. Members of the Board of Review would see an increase to $110,000 from $100,000, and the circuit clerk’s salary will go to $115,000 from $105,000, though the last post will not see that new compensation until December 2024 because it falls under a different election cycle.