BY KAY SHIPMAN
Local officials’ concerns about reporting detailed financial information were the focus of a House Ethics and Election Committee hearing Thursday.
Committee Chair Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, called a subject matter hearing to take testimony virtually; no legislation was considered.
Illinois requires detailed financial information from local officials under a new ethics reform law that took effect Jan. 1.
Known as “statements of economic interest,” the required information includes personal financial information from elected and appointed officials. The information must be filed by May 1 with the county clerk.
Illinois Farm Bureau members who serve as local elected or appointed officials on boards and commissions are worried, Emily Hall, IFB assistant director of state legislation, told committee members. She added penalties of a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail compound concerns.
“IFB is getting calls daily from our members who are seeking clarity on what needs to be reported and specifically how the state classifies farmland for the purposes of this statement,” Hall said. “The unfortunate situation we find ourselves in is neither we, nor anyone else, has clear answers. We continue to recommend that affected members call their appropriate governing body and follow their guidelines.”
Those sentiments about confusion were echoed by Brad Cole, executive director of the Illinois Municipal League. He highlighted a requirement to report personal assets and debt of $10,000 or more.
“We have many rural officials who own farm equipment. Do they have to list each piece of farm equipment that exceeds ($10,000) or do they say, ‘farm equipment?’ And if they have eight pieces of farm equipment that exceed that (amount), are they complying with the intent or the letter of the law? Those are the types of questions we’re getting,” Cole said.
Burke explained legislators who sponsored the revisions did so to make report questions more understandable and had raised the threshold for reporting personal assets and debt from $7,500 to $10,000. That information “should have been disclosed all along,” she said.
Deanna Sullivan, director of governmental relations at Illinois Association of School Boards, said her organization is receiving calls from concerned, confused board members. Sullivan questioned the impact it will have on individuals being willing to serve on school boards.
Township Officials of Illinois also has received many calls from members. “Many officials are considering resigning because what they’re paid is worth less to them than the complicated (economic interest) form,” said Jerry Crabtree, the executive director.
Amy Williams, an attorney with the Secretary of State, testified the Secretary of State’s role is administrative. “We don’t think it is appropriate for us to give legal advice,” Williams said in response to a question about explaining reporting requirements.
Hall presented IFB’s recommendations: “IFB is advocating the current law be law be reviewed and changed to address the concerns that are being raised. We feel that the provisions applying to units of local government should be separated into its own section and modified in a way that details be required only if a nexus of conflict exists with the respective unit of local government.
“We will continue to work with legislators, local government organizations and other interested parties in bringing a workable solution to these new standards,” she concluded.
This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.