By Jim Allen
Chair Jim Mikeworth called the Personnel, Legal and Management Committee to order at 9:00 a.m. on 11-02-2021. Also in attendance were board members Don Munson and Tom Hettinger, Supervisor of Assessments Cindy Baer, Sheriff Nathan Chaplin, Chief Probation Officer Jason Pantier, States Attorney Kate Watson, and Circuit Clerk Nathan Burton.
Nathan Burton was present to propose an increase in court filing fees. These fees help to supplement the costs of the law library in the courthouse. The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts provides the law library as a service to the county, and it may be used by the public as well as anyone in the court system. The cost of maintaining the library is $22,000.00 per year which includes all updates necessary. The court filing fees help to defray costs in this matter. Although the State allows up to $20.00 per filing Burton is asking for an increase in fees from $6.00 to $8.00. This increase would only affect civil cases.
Cindy Baer was present to ask what progress was being made on the decision to increase the salary of the Supervisor of Assessments. Baer approached the Board in June regarding this matter, but to this date has not received any clear answers. Don Munson stated that he was not at liberty to discuss the salary increase in public, but told Baer that he would stop by her office after the meeting to update her on the matter. Any increase will not be in effect until January 1, 2022.
Jason Pantier was present for clarification as to why a request for reimbursement was not approved. The reimbursement request was for classes taken by two of his employees in the probation department. Similar requests had been approved three times before, but the fourth request was denied. Chair Mikeworth asked Jason to speak to the committee regarding the matter.
Pantier explained that each year he submits a budget to the Chief Judge of the Circuit, the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts, and the Douglas County Board. This budget, which included funds for furthering education, was approved by the Chief Judge. Pantier stated further that the policy, according to previous department heads, had been in effect since at least 1995. Munson then asked where that policy had been determined and where in the County Board minutes such policy was stated. Searching the board minutes over the last twenty five years could be difficult, and the handbook has undergone revisions over the years.
In the Probation Department budget for the fiscal year 1-1-21 to 12-31-21, Jason had listed $25,000 for Professional Growth and Development/Tuition Reimbursement/Misc. This was possible because the State converted a salary subsidy position to a fully reimbursed position that added a little over $29,000 to the county assets. Jason intended to use this money or interest money that is not a part of the general fund to reimburse his employees for the cost of courses taken.
At one point reference was made to an email received by Jason Pantier stating that he was “trying to squeeze this in” to the general fund. Pantier stated firmly that he was not “trying to squeeze this in” as was indicated, but instead was simply following previous submissions. Jason did not identify the author of the email, but later in the meeting the author revealed himself.
The position of the committee is that the cost of the courses cannot be reimbursed because they were not required as continuing education for the positions held by those taking them. A position was taken that if these courses were reimbursed, the county could be committed to paying for all county employees who wanted to further their education. County Clerk Judi Pollock researched this issue and found that an employee who is no longer with her office paid the original three submissions. When the fourth submission came in, a new employee asked Judi for advice and that was when it was decided that the courses did not qualify for payment from the general fund.
The issue of policy that has been in place with the Probation Department and how or if it conflicts with the policy of the County is not yet fully resolved. As mentioned before, the Chief Judge of the Circuit, the AOIC, and the Douglas County Board has approved the budget submitted by the Probation Department. The payment of the most recent courses is not the only issue. The County is considering taking a position that reimbursement of previously paid courses must be made.
Chair Jim Mikeworth stated that the county did value its employees and Jason agreed that he was there not for himself but for those in his department. A meeting on November 12 will be held to further discuss the problem.