The watchdog group Better Government Association (BGA) is reporting that the life partner of Tri-State Fire Protection District chief Michelle Gibson, Jill Strenzel, is a long-time member of the board that has voted on Strenzel’s promotion, salary and benefits for at least six years.
According to the BGA report, Strenzel, who lives with Gibson, voted on her partner’s promotion to chief in 2007, as well as on multiple items detailing pay and benefits; Gibson currently earns about $140,000 annually, plus benefits like an SUV, $30,000 more than in 2007 and higher than the average for the area ($129,000), the organization said.
Experts consulted by the BGA said that the revelations were not illegal, but certainly a conflict of interest. "It’s impossible to be objective, and certainly it wouldn’t appear to be objective," Ann Buchholtz, professor of leadership and ethics at Rutgers University, told the BGA. "The best thing is to simply sit out the decision where there is a question and let the rest of the group decide." The mayor of Willowbrook and acting president of Burr Ridge agreed.
Tri-State Board of Trustees president Hamilton Gibbons, on the other hand, told the BGA that Gibson “has meritoriously risen through the ranks,” that the relationship has been public for many years and that there was no conflict of interest because same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Illinois.