Niles village board members--the very people who would be affected by imposing term limits in the village--discussed the issue informally before their regular board meeting Tuesday.
When Mayor Robert Callero started the discussion by asking each trustee whether they would favor term limits, and if so, how many terms, most of the trustees said they would favor term limits. While the citizens' petition would have limited one official's service to four terms, an option popular with most of the board was a total service, for one person, of three terms as trustee and two as mayor. (Each term is four years.)
However, Trustee Chris Hanusiak said, "I believe 16 years is a long enough time."
Most of the trustees felt that officials who had already served 16 years (which applies to Trustees Louella Preston and Andrew Przybylo and Mayor Callero) should not be prevented from running again; in other words, if a term limits rule were to take effect, it should not be retroactive. The citizens' petition would have made term limits retroactive.
Citing arguments against term limits
As the discussion evolved, Callero said two terms is not always enough for a mayor to accomplish his/her goals, Przybylo noted that term limits might force a great mayor to yield to a mediocre mayor, and Preston worried that a two-term mayor might be a lame duck, and thus hamstrung, in the later portion of his/her tenure.
Przybylo also said the village's relatively new ethics ordinance would help ensure officials were not engaged in unethical behavior.
Short tenures would prevent Niles getting on regional boards, trustee says
Preston, who represents Niles on many regional boards such as the Northwest Municipal Conference and Solid Waste Agency of Cook County, observed that officials only rise to positions of leadership in regional organizations after a certain number of years, and term limits would likely prevent Niles' ascension on such policy-making bodies. Preston was the only trustee to completely oppose term limits.
Trustees also considered doing what they said Des Plaines has done--making an elected official who has served two terms sit out (of office) one election cycle and then be permitted to run again.
Questioning what might happen if a trustee served two terms as mayor and then wanted to be a trustee again, Trustee Jim Hynes said rules would have to be worked out to handle various scenarios.
Preston looked out at the scant audience and questioned why, if 1,000 people signed the petition, only a handful showed up at the discussion. And Trustee Andrew Przybylo commented that people will sign any petition just to get the petition circulator off their back.
Circulator: People were enthusiastic about signing petition
That prompted Mary Marusek, a citizen in the audience (and unsuccessful candidate for trustee in 2011) to comment she had circulated some of the petitions and that people were extremely enthusiastic about signing, more so than with other petitions she had taken to voters in the past.
"It was unlike anything else I’ve ever circulated," she said. "People said '16 years, that’s too long'; they all had an opinion, they were all enthusiastic.
Addressing Preston's question of why people weren't at the meeting, she said, "There’s lots of reasons why people aren’t at meetings, but people would ask me what’s happening with (the petition)-- they do care."
'It's a vendetta'
Harry Achino, the only other citizen in attendance who offered an opinion, said a petition circulator approached him in July to inquire if he wanted to sign, and he asked if the petition's aim was to be retroactive. The petition circulator told him it was, he said.
"It (the petition) was a vendetta against anybody who was involved with the mayor (. I don’t think that was brought up here," Achino said.
"Not everybody who was involved with Blase was corrupt. There are good people sitting on this board, there is a good mayor in this chair."
Marusek clarified that it was not a vendetta on her part, but that she wanted to give voters an option to exercise if they chose to.
"It’s not the people circulating the petition who make the decision, it’s the voters," she observed.
Was it about Blase?
Trustee Przybylo questioned Marusek, asking, "In your heart, in your gut, is this a reaction to what the village of Niles has just gone through with 47 years of Mayor Blase?"
"Yes and no," Marusek responded, saying people mentioned Blase and talked about how many years he was in office, but they also talked about corruption in Cook County and Springfield.
"There's a general mood," she said, adding that citizens are often in the dark about the corruption that people in power may be engaged in--especially when those people are in power for a long time.
Trustee Rosemary Palicki also spoke to that issue at another point in the meeting, saying, "Speaking from experience as someone who ran as an independent, people are hesitant when people are in office for long periods."
Trustee Joe LoVerde had a prearranged absence from the meeting, but earlier expressed his opinion in this Letter to the Editor.
Board will vote in November
Mayor Callero said the board would vote Nov. 27 on whether to place a referendum on term limits on the ballot, according to the Journal and Topics. However, Joe Makula, who organized the original petition in July, has been seen around Niles gathering signatures on a new petition.