Excerpts from the chicagotribune.com:

Three candidates are running for the one open seat on the Tri-State Fire Protection District Board, but there’s not a lot of campaigning.

Julie Strenzel, a board incumbent, did not respond to messages and emails to discuss her candidacy. Strenzel has been under the microscope of the Better Government Association for moves she has made during her tenure on the board. The BGA reported last year that Strenzel is in a civil union and raising a family with former Tri-State Chief Michelle Gibson, but still voted to approve a retirement agreement that paid the former chief about $136,000 for unused sick days and vacation time.  Strenzel is also on record approving late career pension spikes for two other former chiefs, as well as an assistant chief.

Matthew Goodwin, a former U.S. Army major, said the BGA investigation is one reason he is running. “I am concerned with the way the board has been run in the past, the issues that have resulted in BGA reports,” Goodwin said. “It is not the type of scrutiny we need.” Goodwin said that stewardship, service and transparency are the pillars of his campaign.

“We don’t need personal agendas and personal priorities,” Goodwin said. “We need good stewards of taxpayer dollars; and the board need to operate in an open and transparent manner as much as possible.” He said that he is concerned about the pension-spiking that has occurred.

The third candidate, Eric Habercoss, a lieutenant with the Cicero Fire Department, agreed. “I have lived in the district 10 years and I have seen the BGA and Doings articles about the misappropriation of funds,” Habercoss said. “I have been a career fireman, 22 years. I want to make a positive impact on the community.” He noted that a practice called pension spiking, where those nearing retirement are giving higher raises their final years to augment their annual pension payment, will cost the district $1.5 million during the next 20 years.

“We need to stop the wasteful spending,” Habercoss said. “The district’s legal fees were more than $500,000 a couple of years ago. There is a lack of bidding for apparatus equipment.” He noted that the Tri-State Board recently decided that all tapes of meetings more than 18 months old will be destroyed. “I am not going to vote for destroying anything,” Habercoss said. “There needs to be accountability in the district.”

The Tri-State District serves parts of Burr Ridge, Darien, Willowbrook and unincorporated DuPage County.

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