Looking at Township Government with Emphasis on the Role of the Supervisor

Michael Walkup

McHenry County Board member-elect shares some more thoughts on township government:


With the deadlines for filing for township offices approaching, this may be a good time to review what exactly it is that townships do and see if that can be done more efficiently in some other way.

I will break this up into installments for those who have short attention spans.


My family came into what would become McHenry County in 1835. They traveled by wagon and horseback. For the rest of the 19th century that was pretty much the only way to travel.

Railroads came in in the 1850’s and you could go to the county seat by train, but only if you lived near a station on that line.

Otherwise it took you all day to get to the county seat and back from many parts of the county on your horse or buckboard. Farmers couldn’t afford to be away from the farm work for a full day.

You couldn’t send them an email either.

Enter township government. Townships were established shortly after the Civil War and enabled people to get to and from a seat of government in an hour or so. This was a boon to the local residents. One of my ancestors was township supervisor in the 1870’s.


Township Government, like Gaul in Caesar’s day, is divided into three parts, Supervisor, Assessor and Road Commissioner. There is also a Board to oversee all of the parts. Everyone is elected, including the Board, and there is also an elected Clerk. They are all paid, along with their staffs. (Contrast this to a Park District where the Board is not paid anything).


The Supervisor is like the CEO of the township. This was recently clarified by the litigation surrounding the attempt in Grafton Township to essentially replace the Supervisor with a Board appointed “administrator.” They weren’t allowed to do that.

The Supervisor has three main duties.

The first is to distribute what is called “interim public assistance.”

This has its origins in the days when we had no social safety net for people who had fallen on hard times. If Farmer Jones got run over by the team, Widow Jones would need help buying the seed for that year or hiring someone to help with the harvest, or she would become a drain on the local community. The Township Supervisor was therefore empowered to give her some
financial assistance out of the township coffers.

Today we have a myriad of other avenues for such assistance. To get state Public Aid, the individual has to drive to the county seat and apply in person at the state IDPA office. Numerous forms have to be filled out. Then the application is processed, but it takes about a month for the month for a check to be issued. In the meantime, the applicant is told to go to their local
township office to apply for interim assistance to tide them over.

They then drive to the township office, sit down and fill out more forms, and get a check right away. The time of an additional administrative staff person plus the Supervisor has to be expended on this process, not to mention the cost of the building they occupy. Why can’t this be done at the IDPA office while they are there using the same application forms they just completed?

Of course it could be done that way but that would eliminate the patronage jobs at the township, so the state workers are not allowed to do this.

There also aren’t a lot of these in McHenry County. Nunda Township typically processes about 2 cases per month. In Grafton it is about 18 per year.


The second function of the Supervisor is to manage the township cemeteries.

Public cemeteries came into use after the Civil War so people didn’t have to keep burying their loved ones on their own properties. When I was a child playing on my grandfather’s farm, where I now live, I ran into a tombstone which said “M.J. Walkup” on it. These happened to be my initials. You can imagine how shocked I was. I later found out that this had belonged to Mary J. Walkup, who had died in the late 1800s and been buried on the farm. She had since been re-interred in the township cemetery in Ridgefield but the original tombstone stayed at the farm under a woodpile.

In the 20th century, private cemeteries began to spring up and the old township cemeteries were closed down. Today they are mainly historical relics where the occasional pauper is buried.

Check Writing

The third function of the Supervisor is to issue checks for the Road Commissioner, Assessor, their staffs, and the Supervisor’s staff, and otherwise balance the books of the township. Today this can be done by outside payroll services and accountants. This also assumes that there is a Road District and Township Assessor in the first place.


Finally, the Supervisor prepares the agendas for the meetings of the Township Board and chairs those meetings. [However, as often seen in Grafton Township, the Board adopts its own agenda.]  Again, this assumes that there is a Township Board. If there is no township, there is no Board.

For this the Supervisor is paid a salary. The salary is usually set based on the overall population of the township. In Algonquin Township the Supervisor makes over $70,000 per year. However, the above duties do not necessarily increase along with the population. If you are in a relatively affluent area, there are not going to be that many new public assistance applications just because the population has grown. In fact, most new growth is going to be in the form of new housing whereas the poor tend to move into existing older housing.

The accounting functions do increase as the Assessor’s duties and staff will go up in direct proportion to population growth, but, again, there are outside services that can be used for this.

The ancient township cemeteries are usually landlocked and don’t grow with population increases.

Any other duties the Supervisor performs are newer functions that were made up to justify the position, and were not authorized originally by the Township Code.

The Supervisor’s job is really part time, even in a large township like Algonquin. The Algonquin Supervisor in the 80’s reportedly used to live in Florida five months out of the year. In those months he would fly back to McHenry County the weekend before the monthly meeting and catch up on the work. He would return phone calls on Monday, chair the meeting on Tuesday, and go back to Florida for the rest of the month on Wednesday. The rest of the year he just worked mornings. For that he was paid $35,000, a lot of money back then. He was also able to retire on a pension based on that salary. Not bad work if you can get it.

Next installment: Other township offices


Looking at Township Government with Emphasis on the Role of the Supervisor — 19 Comments

  1. Mike you information. On townships are in accurate…. I suggest you visit my website and watch my video on it.

    Townships were established when we started forming our country!

    If you’re just being another Anderson, were gonna have a problem.

    Stop looking at the negatives of townships and look at the positive.

    The negatives are usually can be fixed.

  2. Mike you information. On townships are in accurate…. I suggest you visit my website and watch my video on it.

    Townships were established when we started forming our country!

    If you’re just being another Anderson, were gonna have a problem.

    Stop looking at the negatives of townships and look at the positive. The negatives are usually can be fixed.

  3. Thanks Melissa. I did this on the fly so some details may be off.

    I don’t think that affects the conclusions. I do know that townships further East go back further, for the same reasons, we relied on horses back then.

    Counties themselves are the sizes that they are because that is the distance you can travel on horse in a half day.

    If you got up before sunup and hitched Ole Bessie to the buckboard, you could get to the county seat by noon, do your business, and make it back before dark.

    It was still along day.

    The fact that something has been around for a while doesn’t mean that it should continue.

    Doctors used to bleed people who were sick which was exactly the wrong thing to do.

    They justified it by saying it had been recommended by Galen, a physician from Roman Empire times.

    Rather than being conclusory, could you cite some specific reasons we need townships in the 21st century?

    The purpose of this is to foster some debate.

  4. Mike: as always, your details are indeed off. The central issue is that you and your barber client, Bob Anderson of Wonder Lake, have always seemed to have a personal feud with local Township officials. Yet you never ask or answer such questions as:

    1. Is it better to have my property tax assessment set by an appointed political crony (the County Assessor), OR by a state-certified, locally elected Township Assessor who must reside in the community and be accountable to the voters?

    2. Since City and Village road departments receive a huge chunk of their funding from Township Highway Districts, do you propose increasing City and Village property taxes to replace this funding?

    3. Since you propose eliminating Township’s General Assistance amidst the worst economy and unemployment in our lifetime, will you as a County Board member lobby to replace it through expanded County Welfare programs?

    4. Do you approve of the fact that your County Assessors (NOT Township Assessors) have found a “loophole” in the historic new state law requiring the use of Compulsory Sales (foreclosures and short sales) when setting property tax assessments, and are using this “loophole” to avoid using Compulsory Sales in the County’s tax assessment process?

    5. Given the fact that I pay $31.00 a year to the Township, but $553.00 a year to the County, who do you think I’m more interested in scrutinizing?

  5. It is the 21st Century.

    We go into outerspace.

    Office people use computers.

    Business meetings can be held without traveling to other states or countries.

    The services from townships can be dispersed and local patronage jobs and another level of political soldiers dispensed with.

    Township boards do not llke to follow laws sometimes because it infringes on their quiet personal turf.

    It can even interfere with how contracts are handed out.

    If we cannot find a way to merge service or govt. entities by this time, we are not trying very hard.

  6. Robert: I have no personal fued whatsoever with township officials. In fact, I am on very good terms with them. This whole issue was originally not on my radar but during the course of my representation of Bob, he convinced me. Rather, I should say, I was convinced by the facts. This went against my interest in county history as the townships are part of our historic heritage and many of my friends in the historic preservation groups parted company with me on that.

    The transition issues would have to be worked out but no one is going to even attempt to do that until one of the townships is dissolved and they are forced into it. The Hughes committee was supposed to do that and instead they just passed a law to make it more difficult to dissolve the townships. It passed unanimously. One of the few times both parties in the GA could agree on something. Of course, all of them feel they are beholden to townships and their armies of patronage workers.

  7. Mike: then, like most politicians with a personal grudge/agenda, your “solution” is to (a.) get your way first and (b.) let the taxpayers deal with and pay for the ensuing fallout and problems later? This is the kind of leadership we voted for in McHenry County..?

  8. And Mike, when you say that you and Bob Anderson have no negative personal history with township elected officials, we both know that this is what you lawyers would term a “deliberate misstatement of fact,” and what the rest of us mere mortals would call “lying”…

  9. Ummm- I don’t recall Mr. Walkup saying anything about whether or not Mr. Anderson had a feud with township officials.

    But hey- straw man arguments are always easier to argue against.

    Carry on.

  10. Oh- and FWIW, the the only real “necessary” role I see for townships is to create and preserve political training, jobs, and organization.

    This is just like Madigan’s pension shift. “Conservatives” oppose but the pension shift and the abolition of townships. Not for good policy reasons, but for political reasons.

  11. Robert: First of all, kudos to you for using your real name. I wish more people did that.

    Second, you would have to ask Bob about the grudge issue.

    I suspect that would be correct as far as the Adams Family that used to run McHenry Township is concerned, but I think he has a more charitable view of Donna Schaeffer.

    For myself, I have absolutely no negative history with the townships at all.

    In fact, I was appointed to the Nunda Township Planning Commission by the Supervisor at that time.

    I personally know many township officials and have fond feelings for everyone I know.

    That is not the issue.

    The issue is the structure of government and whether or not we can devise a better and more efficient system. Can we stick to that please?

  12. I also have to say that if I was county board chairman, the county would be much better off.

    = = = = =
    A message from Cal:

    Below, Mike Walkup says this comment was not made by him.

  13. Wow- there is a shock.

    Walkup wants the chairman… wonders never cease.

    Township are valuable to those they serve- generally those who are paid by the township pay role.

    Melissa- longevity will NEVER be an argument for why to keep something.

    Ask the average person why they have a township- not a politically connect person.

    Not a family member of an employee- an average, everyday person and they can not tell you.

    It is because they serve no purpose.

    = = = = =
    Message from Cal:

    Below you can see the Mike Walkup says the email referred to is not from him.

  14. More “abolish the townships” blather. If you want to talk about more efficient forms of government, then why aren’t we talking about politicians asking voters for pay raises via referendum rather than constantly voting themselves another increase. Even the pension thing is full of smoke and mirrors – no one is solving the state’s ineptness at managing money. Instead, they make someone else the fallguy and collect a whopping pension for a couple years of service. Fix the problems that need fixing – there are many things ahead of “townships” but everyone is too chicken to broach to topics in dire need of discussion for fear of slitting their own political throat. Too many politicians serve themselves first and their constituents second. Even the county executive referendum was nothing more than an expensive political stunt.

  15. I’ve still yet to see a rational policy argument for keeping townships.

    I’ve seen the “don’t pick on Republican breeding ground” argument. And the “other forms of government are less efficient/more costly” argument.

    But I have still yet to see a real policy argument FOR township governments.

  16. Mike, I am amazed that on the eve of your County Board victory, your burning issue is with Township Government. I’m sure there are significant issues the County Board has actual authority over that would be more pressing. That aside, I find that most of your representations about Township Government duties and responsibilities are not accurate. As a Township Official I know that Townships on average provide services to citizens at lower cost, with less debt and quicker than other more distant units of government. I grow weary of the scattergun approach anti-Township folks use while trying to justify their position. Townships come in all shapes and sizes with different needs and services. Because you may have an axe to grind with a particular Township, does not warrant painting all Townships with such a broad brush. The services you mention should be moved to the Townships where the need is located not 20 miles away.

  17. I did NOT send the blog entry on the County Chair position.

    I DO NOT want to be the Chair and would refuse to serve if somehow I was magically elected.

    This post should be removed immediately!

    Someone is playing dirty tricks here.

  18. The fact that someone is putting up false posts allegedly from me indicates how desperate those folks are who want to preserve townships.

    Hopefully Cal can do something security wise before the other portions of the article appear.

    I will try to answer some of the actual issues that have been brought up at the end of the series as some of them are answered already in the upcoming segments.

    You should note that people who have no argument resort to ad hominen attacks.

    There are legitimate issues here and some people have managed to allude to them in between the personal attacks and dirty tricks.

    Hopefully we can have a sane and rational discussion at some point.

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