When one trustee tried to resolve at Tuesday's village board meeting an issue the village of Niles has left hanging for six months, it sparked some heated discussion.
Trustee Rosemary Palicki asked the board to assign Village Attorney Joe Annunzio to bring the two different term limits referendums, both of which were approved by Niles voters in the April election, to a Cook County Circuit Court judge for a ruling on which applies.
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"I feel our body as a Board of Trustees is a legislative branch and we do not have the authority to make a judicial decision; however I feel a judicial decision is necessary as soon as possible to encourage the citizens of Niles to continue to vote," Palicki said, adding that having to wait years to see the fruits of their vote would be discouraging to voters.
"If we do not make a decision to send this to a court, we may be faced with a lawsuit, which would be more expensive than sending it to a judge," she said.Earlier: Niles Term Limits Question At A Standstill
Earlier: Both Referendums On Term Limits Pass; Here's How They Differ
Prior to the April election, the then-village board approved a term limits ordinance which limits officials to serving two terms as mayor and three as trustee; it is not retroactive.
Niles citizen Joseph Makula gathered 1,000 citizens on a petition to place a referendum on the April ballot, which also passed; it limits officials to a total of 16 years in office. Makula spent his own money on an attorney to defend the citizens' petition in court when the village of Niles challenged it.
Makula is a proponent of good government who was dismayed that former Niles mayor Nicholas Blase was convicted and served prison time for an illegal kickback scheme. Blase was in office 47 years; Makula hopes limiting time in office will prevent future corruption, as one University of Illinois at Chicago political scientist found in a study.
Makula's petition referendum is retroactive, and would count time already served. Theoretically, it could prevent Mayor Andrew Przybylo, who has served on the board since 1989, from continuing to serve as mayor, though, five months into his term, no one has suggested that.
At Monday's meeting, Przybylo suggested to Palicki that submitting the referendums to a judge to decide validity could cost the village tens of thousands of dollars. Palicki referenced attorney Annunzio's earlier quote of $600. Annunzio clarified that would be just the filing fee, and the case could take some hours of his professional time over perhaps a six-month period.
Trustee Joseph LoVerde started out praising Makula's efforts, but ended by sharply criticizing him.
"Mr. Makula is a wonderful citizen…very well respected, he did a lot of legwork," LoVerde said. "But for whatever reason he doesn’t want to close the chapter. If Mr. Makula rang my doorbell I probably would contribute to his legal fund to take the petition to court. He had a referendum that passed; ours is holding up. He has to prove that his has merit. It’s not our responsibility to make sure his petition is correct. It’s his responsibility to finish the job."LoVerde also said the village had already paid $4,500 to two law firms which rendered the opinion that the citizens' petition would not stand.
Trustee Danette Matyas, who was elected in April, said, "I knew about the referendum prior to being a trustee; what confuses me especially being a taxpayer--I don’t think it’s fair taxpayers would have to foot this bill--the previous board knew Mr. Makula's was coming up; why did the previous board pass a referendum?
Mayor Przybylo said one was self-executing, one was retroactive, one was not, and then looked around, asking if anyone else wanted to add to that.
Palicki responded, "I would not attempt to speak for the entire board, but I felt there were certain parts we did not support, and we were offering an alternative. At least that’s my feeling on it."
LoVerde spoke again, saying "(the petition) referendum said if you have 16 years you’re done, then Mr. Przybylo is out, and Niles is left without a mayor.
"How much money would that cost? Would you have to have another election? It would be astronomical."Mr. Makula didn’t complete the process. Shame on him."
Palicki responded, "I feel it’s insulting to ...Joe Makula to say he didn’t finish what he started. He certainly finished what he started. He got out there and distributed petitions.
"Citizens of Niles voted for this to be accepted. Shame on the board of trustees for not stating completely this was a self-executing ordinance. I didn’t know that until afterward."
When a vote was held, Trustees Palicki and Chris Hanusiak voted to send the matter to a judge; Trustees George Alpogianis, John Jekot, LoVerde and Matyas voted against, sending it to defeat.