In a way, Steve Landek is Mr. Government.
He’s worked for public agencies most of his adult life—starting at age 19 when he was elected to suburban Bridgeview’s park district board.
And until recently, he was holding down three public-sector jobs simultaneously—mayor of Bridgeview, state senator, and Lyons Township supervisor—in addition to the elected post of Democratic committeeman. Eventually, he stands to collect two public-sector pensions.
So Landek, 55, might seem an unlikely proponent of streamlining Illinois’ bureaucracies. And yet, he is among the lawmakers trying to give voters a bigger say in reducing the size of township governments.
He was a chief co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1907, which would make it easier to abolish township road districts within Cook County and outsource their pavement repairs and snow plowing—perhaps reducing the tax burden on local property owners.
Given his past employment, there’s a measure of irony to Landek’s involvement with the bill, which passed the General Assembly on May 29 and awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature.
He was the Lyons Township highway commissioner from 2008 until late 2010, overseeing maintenance on roughly 20 miles of unincorporated road in the west suburbs. He left to become township supervisor, which is the top administrative job in the township.
He resigned a few of weeks ago because, he said, he needed to focus on his other jobs, including the legislative position to which he was appointed earlier this year when state Sen. Louis Viverito resigned.
A quick primer on Illinois townships for the uninitiated (For a deeper BGA look into the ins and outs of Illinois townships, visit our partner policy blog):
- Illinois township boundaries often cover more than one municipality. And within Cook County there are roughly 30 functioning townships.
- Illinois township governments maintain roads in unincorporated areas and offer social services—for example, providing property tax advice, and operating health fairs and food pantries.
- Illinois township leaders are elected and their operations are funded through property taxes.
- In rural areas, Illinois township governments can have close interaction with the public. In populated areas, critics contend they are inefficient and redundant—meaning the services often are duplicated by other public agencies, or could easily be absorbed by them.
The Better Government Association not only supports Landek’s Cook County-centric bill, which would allow a local township board of trustees to submit a ballot proposition for voters to abolish a road district. We are also working on other legislation to streamline township governments across Illinois.
Landek said there are political risks to supporting a bill that could trigger job cuts at the 19 suburban townships with separate road districts (although it’s worth noting Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan sponsored the bill in the House, so it has political heft behind it.)
But Landek said local government needs to get leaner and more efficient, and townships are a good place to start.
“By eliminating the [road] division, you eliminate a measure of overhead,” he said. “It’s a small savings but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Despite the bill’s potential to save taxpayer dollars, Landek’s support could earn him a few enemies, said Viverito, who is Stickney Township’s supervisor.
“It’s not going to make Steve popular with township officials,” he said. “But a lot of people probably agree with him.”
So what’s the status of Landek’s bill?
It’s awaiting action by Quinn, whose spokesman told the BGA a “decision will not be made until we are finished reviewing the bill.”
Andrew Schroedter is a Chicago-based freelance reporter and BGA investigator. For tips, questions or comments, contact the BGA.