Amid controversy, political township couple banks nearly $100K in pension benefits
Voted out of office in 2017 amid allegations of patronage and waste, Algonquin Township’s former highway commissioner has since found work at neighboring townships – while collecting a handsome pension from his former employer.
Former Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Bob Miller and his wife Anna Miller, the former Algonquin Township secretary, left their respective township posts in 2017, after Miller lost re-election amid allegations of improper spending and patronage hires. But that hasn’t stopped the stream of taxpayer funds.
In McHenry County – one of the most overtaxed counties in the state – the couple receives a generous annual retirement payout, according to records from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, or IMRF.
Just one year after voters ousted Bob Miller from his post, he and Anna are already receiving a combined annual pension payout totaling just under $100,000, taking in $72,300 and $26,400, respectively.
Throughout the couple’s combined 59 years of public service – during which Bob Miller had been accused of using taxpayer money to pay for personal items, doling out illegal bonuses to employees and hiring family members to high-priced positions – the two had collectively contributed $161,400 to the retirement fund.
In addition to collecting a pension check, Bob Miller has continued to charge McHenry County taxpayers for township services. Shortly after losing re-election in Algonquin Township, Miller landed a contract with nearby Nunda Township, where he has been paid $40 per hour as a “consultant.” In 2017, Miller charged McHenry Township for hundreds of dollars in consulting services. The family’s political sway even won full-time jobs at Nunda and Wauconda townships for their two sons-in-law.
The Millers’ retirement gambit underscores lawmakers’ failure to solve two key issues: the state’s broken pension system and its thousands of wasteful, redundant layers of government.
Illinois has more than 1,400 townships, which frequently duplicate or overlap with other forms of municipal government. These unnecessary layers of government create waste, and often lack transparency.
Miller’s patronage hires and alleged abuse of taxpayer funds are not exceptions. Officials in neighboring townships – such as Nunda and McHenry townships – have hired each other’s sons to positions unadvertised to the public. Nunda, along with Grafton and Algonquin townships, have been the subject of criminal investigations into misuses of taxpayer money. The investigation into Algonquin Township led McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally to conclude that townships are a “deeply flawed” form of government, prone to “incompetence, guile and impropriety.”
Townships also contribute to the growth in pension costs overburdening taxpayers across the state. Over the last 20 years, current township pensioners in Illinois have received more than $273 million in pension benefits, with two of those pensioners having each accumulated more than $1 million total, according to IMRF records.
State lawmakers set the rules for Illinois’ broken pension system, and they are the ones who must enact reforms that bring costs in line with what taxpayers can afford. In the short term, that means enrolling new government workers into 401(k)-style retirement plans. This would provide a better future for taxpayers and government workers alike. In the long term, however, it means amending the state’s constitution to allow for changes to future, unearned benefits for government workers.
At the local level, lawmakers should aggressively pursue sensible consolidation efforts. With nearly 7,000 units of government, Illinois has far and away the most government units of any state in the nation. Thankfully, McHenry Township voters will have the option this November to vote to consolidate their township road district, a small but meaningful step in the right direction. But that option should be afforded to all taxpayers across the state – who are likely to welcome fewer taxing bodies on their property tax bills.
If lawmakers refuse to take steps such as these, taxpayers will continue to pay among the highest property taxes in the nation.