Republican walkout foils Will County Board vote on pay hikes

Two sides disagree on what they agreed to

Will County board member Judie Ogalla speaks at the Will County board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Joliet.

An apparent deal to hike pay for elected Will County officials fell apart Tuesday with Republicans walking out of a county board meeting as Democrats tried to nudge proposed salary increases higher.

A pay hike would have been the first in 16 years for elected county officials. A yes vote would have marked the first time in 20 years that the county board approved pay hikes.

But the deal apparently was a shaky one with Republican and Democratic board leaders disagreeing on what they had agreed upon going into the special board meeting called on the last day on which state law allows approval of pay hikes before the November election.

“This was an agreed upon 1% increase for the elected officials,” board Chairwoman Judy Ogalla, R-Monee said. “Now, we’re having a completely different thing that was never discussed by the Democratic leader.”

Democratic Leader Jacqueline Traynere from Bolingbrook proposed 2.5% increases, which failed when one Democrat, Destinee Ortiz from Romeoville, voted against the hike in pay for county executive.

Will County board member Jackie Traynere speaks at the Will County board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Joliet.

Traynere later said she had agreed to 1.5% pay increases but only learned Tuesday morning that Ogalla was cutting that back to 1%.

“The fact that I made a change should not come as a surprise,” Traynere said in response to Ogalla. “She reneged on two agreements.”

Ogalla said she was prepared to be the one Republican to vote for the 1% increases, which would have been enough to gain approval on a board evenly split between the two parties.

Instead, she lead a Republican walkout in the middle of a vote on a the original 1% pay increase proposed for the county executive position.

County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant could have cast a yes vote to approve the increase. Instead, she abstained while facing the prospect of approving a pay hike for her own job amidst a Republican walkout that left the board without a quorum to vote on any other increases.

Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant sit in on the Will County board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Joliet.

“There are people in these county positions who have been around a lot longer than I have,” Bertino-Tarrant said after the meeting. “If we weren’t going to be fair to everybody, I wasn’t going to do it.”

Positions on the agenda for pay hikes were those that will be on the ballot in November: executive, coroner, circuit clerk, auditor and recorder of deeds. Pay hikes also would have applied to six county board positions on the ballot.

State law does not allow elected officials to increase their own pay while in office. Instead, the county board was to vote on pay hikes that applied to whoever won in November.

The county executive and other countywide officials now make $93,116 a year. The proposed 1% hikes over four years would have increased that to $96,897 by 2028.

County board members are paid a salary of $23,000, which would have risen to $26,000 by 2028.

The proposed increases include a larger increase for the county board chair, who now makes the same $23,000 paid to other county board members. Pay for the chair would have gone up by $10,500 in 2025 and would have reached $36,000 by 2028.

The county board elects a chair after each election.

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