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Local News

Townships, what are they good for?

Government bodies provide services despite some negative headlines

At a recent meeting of the Plainfield Township Board of Trustees, there was a grand total of one resident in attendance to watch the proceedings.

The board went about its normal business of establishing its levy for next year, approving its annual contract with Pace Bus for residents to use, and hearing updates on its revamped website. The one resident in attendance was there to express concerns over the unincorporated road in front of his home.

"We're his most local form of government," Plainfield Township Supervisor Tony Fremarek said. "To feel that he has a voice that can be heard, I think that we provide a good service to that."

Perhaps few people regularly monitor their local townships, but these bodies of government are there for a reason.

The Illinois constitution allows for the formation of townships. They generally provide services like youth programming, senior programming, services for residents with disabilities and public aid.

They also do it for relatively few tax dollars. According to Plainfield Township's website, the average home pays about $50 a year in taxes to the township fund.

But over the past year, a couple of Will County townships have had some negative headlines. Just last month, the longtime Plainfield Township administrator resigned after Fremarek and the board found out about her using a township-owned garage to store her private boat and jet skis. Township officials investigated and have since found problems with record keeping which they intend to correct going forward.

It's not just Plainfield Township. DuPage Township officials have dealt with a long list of issues that have prompted a lot more residents to pay attention.

In April, the longtime assistant to Township Supervisor William Mayer sued three township trustees for violating the open meetings act before they voted to dismiss her, although they later reinstated her. One of those trustees also was arrested on a DUI charge. The board also discussed possible action against a trustee accused of sexual harassment.

Then in August, although a forensic examination of the township did not find evidence of alleged fraud, it "noted numerous instances of weakness in internal control and failure to employ best accounting practices."

Mayer attributed some of the problems to the township's previous legal counsel. The township got a new attorney this year. The township, Mayer said, will pay nearly twice as much as usual due to legal issues this year.

Because of these issues, many have taken to requesting documents under the Freedom of Information Act, which Mayer said has put a strain on full-time staffers who also are in charge of other day-to-day township operations.

But Mayer stressed the good things that DuPage Township does, like feeding more than 1,000 people every month through its food pantry and the more than 400 local children staying active year-round in its summer programs. This costs taxpayers about $30 to $40 each a month.

For those who might advocate dissolving townships, Mayer said he hasn't heard a viable solution to address the continuation of services that townships provide.

"It's government," he said. "You're going to have positive things that come of it. You're going to have negative things that people don't agree with."

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