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Should Elected Officials Have to Clock In for Work?

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There is a saying commonly attributed to the innovative business organization scholar W. Edwards Deming: "In God we trust; all others must bring data."

When it comes to proving they are logging enough time on the job to deserve their taxpayer-funded pensions, DuPage County Board members would do well to recognize they fall into that "all others" category.

A recent Better Government Association investigation found a high rate of absenteeism among some DuPage County Board members, who were not putting in the hours that taxpayers expect and deserve from their public servants. This week, a BGA investigation, featured in the Daily Herald, revealed those same board members passed a resolution certifying that each member was completing 1,000 hours of work per year -- a move that keeps them eligible for their public pensions.

Yet despite a state regulation requiring a government body "be prepared to document the time actually required to perform the duties of the office," no one -- not even the board members themselves -- were able to vouch for the number of hours they are putting in each week, the BGA discovered.

The BGA investigation begs an important question: should governing bodies require elected officials to prove to taxpayers they are properly qualifying for a public pension?

County rank and file workers punch time cards or fill out time sheets. County elected officials, however, have their board certify when they take office that their position requires 1,000 hours of work per year. No other measures are used to ensure that is actually the case.

Why shouldn't elected and appointed officials be just as accountable as other full-time employees?

The State of New York thinks they should be.

Since 1976, it has compelled its elected and appointed officials to be more accountable to taxpayers and to the pension system.

An elected or appointed official who participates in the New York state pension system, and doesn't otherwise fill out a time sheet for their job, must keep track of their work-related activities for a three-month timeframe at the beginning of each term of office.

Work-related activities include meetings and addressing constituent concerns but they do not include time spent performing campaign duties.

Among the elected and appointed officials who must fill out the work activity log are local and county government officials, including county board members and judges.

The work logs are turned into the appropriate governing board, like the city council or county board, who must then vote to certify the log, vouching that the time sheets are accurate reflections of the time spent by the elected official during the three-month period in question. The form then gets turned over to the Comptroller whose office oversees the New York State and Local Retirement System.

That log is kept as proof that the elected position takes the amount of time required to qualify for a public pension. It also provides a three-month snapshot of a public official's activities for everyone to see.

The New York system has strengths and weaknesses.

Although useful at evaluating how much time an elected official's position really requires (and whether it should be pension eligible), it only records the officeholder's first three months on the job.

Once that three-month reporting period is over, officials are back to the honor system to show how they are spending their time on the taxpayers' payroll.

In Illinois, governing bodies skip the accountability piece all together, going straight to the resolution that claims officials are spending 1,000 hours per year.

Proving that elected officials are putting in the amount of time their positions require is important. Taxpayers have the right to know their elected officials are providing them with the services they're elected to provide.

Admittedly, public officials often work odd hours, putting in time on weekends, evenings and in emergency situations that make it difficult to clock in and out in a traditional way.

Determining a way to make public officials accountable for their time is a delicate balance between creating an additional layer of paperwork and bureaucracy compared to creating a system that honestly holds elected officials accountable.

At the very least, it's worth exploring ways to make sure our elected officials follow Demings' lead and "bring the data."