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Aldermen rebuffed calls to trim perks

Members of mayoral advisory committees on City Council pay say Evanston aldermen have repeatedly rejected suggestions to trim aldermanic perks.

Every four years, in the fall before the following spring’s city election, Evanston’s mayor appoints a special committee to make recommendations about aldermanic pay.

The aldermen, who under state law can’t raise their pay during their term of office, then set the compensation level for the new City Council to be seated after the election is held.

Former alderman Emily Guthrie, a two-time member of the advisory committee after leaving the council, says the committee concluded that what the city charges aldermen for health insurance coverage "was way out of line" — much lower than what other city workers have to pay. But, she says, the aldermen have "totally ignored" recommendations to close the gap.

City Manager Julia Carroll says aldermen currently pay between $11.50 and $37 a month for health coverage while regular city employees pay from $64 to $232 per month.

In each case the lower number is for individual coverage through a health maintenance organization and the higher figure is for family coverage under a preferred provider plan.

Carol Mullins, a former School District 202 board member, also has served on the advisory committee twice.

"My recollection is that we suggested the aldermen should pay about the same premium level as the rest of the staff," she said.

"It’s a nice benefit," Mullins said. "Most of the people on the council don’t work for big corporations with great health plans. They’re small business people or entrepreneurs."

"Many people with corporate jobs couldn’t take the aldermanic job because of the time constraints," she added.

Mullins says the aldermen’s salary has been at the $10,000 level for quite a while. But Guthrie says it was $6,500 when she left the council in 1997.

Trustees in Skokie currently earn $7,412 per year, while those in Arlington Heights are paid $2,800. Neither group receives health benefits.

"From a policy perspective," Mullins said, "you want to have enough of a stipend that people don’t feel discouraged from running for office."

"The aldermen may end up working 15 or 20 hours a week on city business," she said, "If you’re an aspiring corporate executive you’re not going to be able to do it, because of the time and travel requirements of your main job."

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