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No easy job getting township salary information

STERLING – Want to find out what the Sterling Township road commissioner makes?

It's not an easy number to get.

During an interview, Sauk Valley Media asked Supervisor Matt Howze for Commissioner Jim Lopez's salary. He wouldn't answer the question – or an inquiry about how many full- and part-time employees were in the township's road district.

"I don't have a clue who is full time or part time," he said. "[Lopez] does his budget."

Howze, who is running unopposed in the April 9 election, acknowledged the supervisor and trustees hold the township's purse strings. So shouldn't Howze answer questions about the salaries and numbers of employees?

No, Howze said; such questions should go to Lopez.

"It's professional courtesy," he said.

He said the newspaper could find information on salaries in the township's budget filed at the Whiteside County Courthouse.

So Sauk Valley Media visited the courthouse. But the document in question included only total amounts of salaries in each township fund, not salaries for specific employees.

Howze's other tip for getting the road commissioner's salary: File a Freedom of Information Act request.

The newspaper followed his advice and, while doing so, asked for the entire list of employees and what they were paid last year.

A few days later, the township responded, but not with the requested information.

The road commissioner's salary showed up in the budget – $44,000. However, the documents didn't show what other employees made.

For its personnel, the township listed them in three salary categories – less than $15,000, more than $15,000 but less than $30,000, and more than $30,000.

Howze and employees Frances Leal and Angela Schneider were listed in two categories – less than $15,000 and more than $30,000. That, Howze later explained, was because they were paid from more than one fund.

Although Howze said it's not his business to answer questions about road district finances, he is the district's treasurer under state law.

Bob Anderson, a longtime township critic from McHenry County, said the supervisor should be able to answer questions about finances.

"He is the tie-breaking vote on the trustees, and the trustees approve the budget, and he's also the treasurer," Anderson said. "When he says he can't speak [to the finances], what that says to the voters is, 'In your face.'"

After a second interview with Howze, Sauk Valley Media asked when it could get the information on employees' wages. He responded to that request shortly after.

Lopez, 77, has been the township road commissioner for 12 years and has worked for the road division since 1969. His actual wages amounted to $43,666 last year. He also gets a $22,910-a-year pension as a result of his years of service before being elected commissioner.

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