The following Letter to the Editor represents the views of the author. Patch merely provides a forum for expressing views.
This summer more than one thousand Niles citizens rose up and voiced their disapproval with the current state of their local government. They were promptly told to sit down and shut up.
The official spin on why Niles voters won’t be considering a term limit initiative this fall is that Mr. Makula didn’t “cross his t’s and dot his i’s” properly.
Don’t believe it. The Village attacked this initiative proposal the same way they went after the Off Track Betting referendum of a few years ago – they insisted that despite the intentions of the signature gatherers and the petition signers, Makula’s initiative could only be considered as a non-binding advisory “public question.” Rest assured, the Village of Niles is not interested in entertaining any binding referendum that interferes with business as usual.
Well, guess what? In effect, that “advisory referendum” passed without a single vote being cast. Now that the first cloud of dust has settled, we see the Village Board scheduling public hearings on term limits for Tuesday, October 23.
Yes, the people will get to speak again. But will they be heard? Is the term limit forum simply an attempt to defuse the issue by providing the public an opportunity to vent steam?
What will be the end result? Will trustees actually put the Makula initiative – “16 and out” –on the April ballot as a binding referendum? Will they substitute their own term limit proposal? Will they attempt political suicide by trying to “grandfather” themselves in and guarantee that each has the opportunity to stay in office another 16 years?
More importantly, have the mayor and trustees bothered to think through the complications they have now visited upon what Mr. Makula and I constructed as a very simple, easy to understand and easy to implement term limit proposition?
Our plan was to have a November vote which, if successful, would impact the April 2013 election by rendering anyone with 16 prior years of experience ineligible to run again. By moving the question to the April election, assuming that may be the case, we will have people with 16 years of service running for reelection. What happens if they win and a 16-year rule is also passed? Do we hold special elections to replace them? Do we once again allow the Mayor to replace them without election? Do we allow the Mayor to replace himself or herself? Or do we elevate the losing candidates with the next highest vote totals to replace them?
The Village Board may put an alternative to Makula’s language and logic on the ballot, if anything at all, to avoid this sticky situation. However, Mr. Makula is already well on his way to gathering the signatures necessary to place the “16 and out” initiative on the April ballot. Makula’s proposition raises the same questions about the April-June interim period and the replacement of newly-elected but ineligible trustees, or perhaps a newly-elected mayor himself or herself. The point is, by rejecting the timetable of Makula’s original initiative, the Village has opened up a new can of worms.
Here are a few more questions:
- Is the Village going to offer its legal services to Mr. Makula and Niles citizens involved in the new initiative process targeting April (after all Atty. Annunzio has recently had his job description upgraded to “citizens attorney”)?
- Will the Village authorize its Clerk, Ms. Victorine, to have petitions available at her counter for citizens to sign, as required for “backdoor amendments,” though not for an initiative not linked to ratifying proposed legislation? (See: Illinois Election Code 28-2F)
- In short, will the village do the bare minimum to assist its citizens with the initiative process?
- Will it actively try to throw Makula’s proposition off the ballot again?
- Or will the Mayor and the Board finally recognize that this is not some personal vendetta against sundry politicians? It is a direct outgrowth of the Citizens Subcommittee of the Niles Board of Ethics that was created in April of 2009. I chaired that committee for more than a year, along with Chris Hanusiak, and was succeeded by Mr. Makula after I resigned in protest over a scheduled meeting cancelled at the last minute by the Village. Please consult the minutes of our 1½ years of meetings to see what was being done on behalf of all the citizens of Niles by a group of hardworking people with whom it was a pleasure and privilege to serve.
Our committee was a vibrant body with lots of great ideas to improve the quality and accessibility of local government. Term limits, an ethics code, televised/interactive Board meetings, a procedure for the recall of elected officials, the standardization of procedures for publicizing open committee positions and for vetting and interviewing candidates, representation of geographical districts (wards) rather than the “at large” election of Trustees – all ideas we presented to the Ethics Board, and some of which have been or are in the process of being adopted.
However, about halfway through our three-year term, the centerpiece of the program – a thorough department-by-department review of operational practices and the creation of a comprehensive compliance plan by a committee of ordinary citizens – was abandoned, as was the Citizens Subcommittee itself.
As time wore on, very little of the grand compliance review was being accomplished by our committee because of our preoccupation for nearly a year with producing a second draft of the ethics code in conjunction with the Board of Ethics.
In the course of the discussion at one of our last meetings, we essentially agreed that the entire compliance review project was ill-advised; not only because of the sheer scope of the project but also because it exposed members of our committee to potential legal liability in the future. That discussion appears in the minutes of our September 7, 2010 committee meeting. Seems the citizens were right on that one too, since the project was abandoned shortly thereafter.
However, it has been over two years and the Village has not yet posted those minutes on its website (or the minutes of the final meeting of the subcommittee on December 8, 2010). I hope the complete proceedings of the Citizens Subcommittee will be available on the website before the October 23 term limits forum, so citizens can get a complete picture of what a dedicated group of volunteer citizens tried to accomplish on their behalf.