Two years ago, Richard Dominick recalls, he received a tempting offer from his brother, Cicero Town President Larry Dominick.
"We were just talking and he said, 'How would you like to sit on a town board, get full health insurance and make a thousand bucks a month?' " Richard Dominick said. "I told him, 'Do you think I'm nuts? Yeah, I'll take that.' "
A Tribune investigation has revealed that 121 appointed board and commission members in Cicero are paid salaries -- at a cost to taxpayers of about $1 million annually -- and are offered health and dental insurance benefits for themselves and their families.
Though many towns pay their elected leaders and a few pay advisory panel members who serve exceedingly long hours, the distinction for Cicero is the size of the circle of compensation and the fact that it includes several relatives of Larry Dominick, who in his 2005 campaign promised to change the town's history of nepotism.
Cicero is a town of about 85,000 that once was the criminal headquarters of Al Capone but prefers to tout itself as the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway (in a part of Cicero that is now Oak Park). Former Town President Betty Loren-Maltese is in prison for her role in a scheme that bilked town coffers of more than $12 million, but she is revered by many senior citizens for programs that blossomed into free lunches, grass-cutting and even home repairs for the aged.
Cicero began paying board members in 1984, spokesman Elio Montenegro said, noting that they contribute many hours to the boards.
"For [Cicero], getting people in the community to participate may be a little more challenging than, say, a suburb on the North Shore," Montenegro said. "Cicero is a working-class neighborhood. The money and incentives help get residents involved in the community."
Richard Dominick is no longer involved. He transferred to the town's building board in December, he said, and was fired this spring for "asking too many questions."
His dismissal came a month after Larry Dominick was re-elected. Richard Dominick supported another candidate. "These boards are a joke," Richard Dominick said. "It's all about political payback. Have you ever heard of a town that gives board members that much money and health insurance? Some of these board members don't even live in town."
He said that during his tenure, he attended one meeting a month that typically ran about 30 minutes.
Montenegro said Richard Dominick has an ax to grind with his brother. The Tribune's calls seeking comment from Larry Dominick and the town's attorney were returned by spokesmen.
Records show several other Dominick family members served on Cicero town boards in 2009. Lillian Dominick, Larry Dominick's mother, serves on the Animal Welfare Board. Larry Dominick's son, Brian, and nephew, Wayne Wente, serve on the Housing and Real Estate Board. Carol Bernhard, Larry Dominick's first wife, serves on the Cultural Affairs/Historic Sites Commission and Ryan Chlada, son-in-law of Larry Dominick's second wife, sits on the Youth Commission and works as director of special events.
Larry Dominick's sister, Cindy Dembowski, served on the Animal Welfare Board in 2008 and now is deputy liquor commissioner.
Lillian Dominick declined to comment, as did Dembowski. Efforts to reach the others were unsuccessful.
A resolution unanimously approved at the May 26 town board meeting shows Cicero has 19 boards and commissions -- excluding the town's top board -- with 121 members. Those bodies include, among others, the Board of Health, Mental Health Board, Housing Board, Zoning Board, President's Office of Literacy, Graffiti Task Force and Roosevelt Road Advisory Committee.
Each member is paid $7,500 to $12,000 a year and is eligible for insurance benefits, Montenegro said.
Richard Dominick's tax form from Cicero shows he made $900 a month while serving on the Board of Fire & Police Commissioners. He said he also received health and dental insurance from Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
If each member of a board or commission is paid in that range for 12 months, salaries alone would amount to $907,500 to more than $1.4 million a year. Town officials would not disclose exact salaries, though the Tribune requested the information under the Freedom of Information Act.