The following Letter to the Editor expresses the opinions of the author alone; Patch merely provides a platform for writers to state their views.
- Not surprisingly, the tactics used by the Village this time were identical to the attack on the OTB referendum: reduce it to advisory status at minimum --better yet knock it off the ballot entirely. This time they accomplished both.
Earlier: Judge quashes referendum on term limits for Niles elected officials
- How the judge found the initiative question to be "advisory" is beyond me. He claimed that the petition language was appropriate to "an advisory public question," not a binding referendum, because it used terms like "question," "proposition," "shall"etc. Those words are there because we are asking citizens if they wish to put the clear and definitive new qualification for election on the November ballot. Yet the Court found our language "much too vague and ambiguous" and "sufficiently confusing." At the same time the Court suggested that we needed to deal with the problem of Trustees whose terms would be cut short were this measure implemented (there are none – something he should have known) and further stipulates that we did not address the question of when the term-limit clock starts. Of course if we added all this detail to the initiative, it would be thrown out for addressing more than a "single subject," the most popular silver bullet for stifling citizen lawmaking. All this reinforces my conclusion that Illinois, never known to be a state friendly to citizen initiatives, has an almost unreachable standard for binding referenda. This is not surprising since it reflects our statewide referenda policies which only allow for advisory votes.
- Let's also remember that trustee term limits were among the many recommendations advanced by the Citizens Subcommittee of the Board of Ethics. This is not something Mr. Makula came up with on his own, though he did all the leg work and paid the legal bills precipitated by the Circuit Court challenge. I imagine the Village spent quite a pretty sum of taxpayer dollars trying to defeat the referendum also.
- What I find troubling is that when our Subcommittee mentioned term limits during our discussions with the Board of Ethics, we were told that it was a good idea but that it should be done by citizen initiative. I’m not sure that is possible anymore, given the Village’s track record at squashing any attempt at citizen lawmaking, and the high bar the Court has set for qualification as a binding referendum.
- However, I have heard four Trustees voice support for term limits -- Hanusiak, Lo Verde, Palicki, and even Przybylo. It’s time for them to step up to the plate and take action on this issue via a Village ordinance – preferably one that does not grandfather present trustees so they can serve additional decades. Procedures for (a) the recall of elected officials and (b) for an orderly and fair process for the replacement of trustees mid-term, including public advertisement of available positions and the establishment of procedures for a full vetting of all candidates, could also be components of a comprehensive ordinance.
Mr. Kurfirst is a former political science professor.