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Waukegan City Council votes for 4-year salary freeze

Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian

Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian

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Updated: November 26, 2012 7:00AM

WAUKEGAN — The current salaries of the mayor, city clerk and treasurer were frozen last week when the City Council voted 6-3 to keep all three posts at the same compensation level for the next four years.

Under the salary ordinance, which must be set in place at least 180 days prior to a municipal election, the mayor will make $118,502 annually, with the clerk making $80,720 and the treasurer $22,000, the latter of which is equivalent to the annual salary for aldermen.

During discussion of the salary structure, 6th Ward Ald. Larry TenPas — who was joined in voting against the measure by aldermen Thomas Koncan Jr. (2nd Ward) Harold Beadling (4th) — questioned the outlay for the treasurer’s post, saying at one point that “you probably don’t need the job any more.”

“There’s no way the treasurer puts in the kind of time an alderman does,” said TenPas, pointing to the salaries shared by the positions. “The treasurer has a full-time assistant who does most of the work anyway.”

Prior to the council meeting, the labor relations committee voted 2-2 on approving a treasurer’s salary, sending it to the council with no recommendation.

Current treasurer John Schwab defended his office’s necessity by pointing to a backlog of audits that he began clearing out after taking office in 2009. At one point, he told the council that “I believe I deserve the salary I’ve been given, and I would be more than happy to take a pay cut.”

Mayor Robert Sabonjian backed both Schwab and the elected position of treasurer in general, saying “we want to make sure we have a separate office for the people of Waukegan” to have a say in fiscal matters along with the city’s administrative staff.

“Dr. Schwab worked very hard his first couple of years to get that office back in order,” Sabonjian said, adding that the idea of having a salary in place for the office is to “attract the highest caliber of individual” to the public sector.

The $22,000 figure that eventually was approved for treasurers is down from $22,380 paid under the previous salary ordinance. The three salary freezes put a hold on previous annual increases — for example, the mayoral salary was $98,345 in 2007, and went up to $101,296 in 2008, $105,348 in 2009, $109,562 in 2010 and $113,944 in 2011.

Sabonjian, who last week reiterated his intention to run for re-election as an independent in the spring, told the council that he was “100 percent supportive of this freeze.” Third Ward Ald. Gregory Moisio noted that by approving a six-figure salary for the mayor’s office, aldermen were effectively blocking efforts by the advocacy group Waukegan Residents for a City Manager, which has pushed for the hiring of a professional administrator.

“Under the current system, the mayor is the day-to-day CEO of the city,” said Moisio, chair of the labor relations committee. “If we approve this, for the next four years, the mayor will be the day-to-day manager, (and) we’re not going to be able to change it.”

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