WOODSTOCK – Three advisory referendums proposed by a local state lawmaker and a longtime anti-township activist were squashed by a McHenry County Board committee on Thursday.
The Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee soundly rejected one by a 1-4 margin, and declined to vote on the other two. But the one voted upon – asking whether the County Board should shrink to 16 single-member districts – will still go before the board next week for debate and possibly a vote.
It is one of two referendums that state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, proposed in a letter to board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock. Committee members declined to vote on the other, which would have asked whether governments should be allowed to collect more in property taxes in years when overall assessed value declines.
Committee members likewise declined to vote on a request by township opponent Bob Anderson to ask voters in six townships predominantly covered by municipalities whether they should be allowed to abolish them.
The County Board conventional wisdom – that Franks should mind the state’s business and not the county’s – permeated the debate over his proposed referendum to shrink county government from its current size of 24 members representing six, four-member districts. As has been done in past debates, committee member Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, brought up the county’s solid finances versus the state’s ongoing budget disaster.
“If we’re going to talk about structural deficiencies, Representative Franks represents an organization that is as structurally deficient as you can imagine,” Provenzano said.
The sole vote in favor of the idea came from Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin, one of the County Board’s two Democratic members. The Democratic Party of McHenry County has made shrinking the County Board’s size part of its 2014 campaign platform.
“I think we’d have a much more cohesive process by which the representatives would be able to interact with the people at the county level,” Chirikos said.
Hill said she opposes both of Franks’ proposals, but brought them to the committee out of professional respect for a fellow elected official. She said she plans to bring the County Board reduction referendum to the full board, where its odds are not much better than they were in committee.
Committee members rejected moving forward on an advisory referendum on property taxes. Because the committee did not have a resolution before it, a special meeting would have been required to make the Aug. 18 deadline to get advisory referendums on the November ballot.
Committee Chairman John Jung, R-Woodstock, echoed the sentiment of his majority in citing that the county for two consecutive years has voluntarily frozen its levy – it is planning to to freeze it next fiscal year as well. Members also had concerns that the referendum could give the false impression that county government is solely responsible for property-tax bills – the majority of property owners’ bills comes from school districts.
“Just by our actions, we have shown the public that we have heard their voices on taxes,” Jung said.
In a moment of bipartisanship, both Provenzano and Chirikos expressed disappointment that Franks did not attend the meeting. But Anderson did, and expressed frustration with what he said was the committee not understanding his intentions.
One of the main reasons the committee cited for opposing his referendum is that the only way a county can abolish townships under state law is by going to a completely new form of government in which the county would be run by three elected commissioners at large.
But Anderson, who attempted just that in a 1994 referendum, knows as much. Had the referendums been in favor of dissolution, Anderson said he would ask state lawmakers to create a mechanism by which individual townships could be abolished. An advisory referendum, followed by a new state law and a binding referendum is how voters earlier this year abolished Evanston Township in Cook County.
Despite information Anderson sent to board members, he said the board’s 3-minute public comment rule didn’t give him time to make his case. That did not prevent Anderson from getting into a brief but testy exchange with Provenzano prior to the end of the debate.
“Three minutes – I couldn’t get that through to them,” Anderson said.
Almost all of the talk opposing the proposed referendum came from Provenzano and member Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock. Schuster said she is “bone-tired” of Anderson’s “spiteful attack on township governments”, and Provenzano accused him of trying to impose his opinions and agenda through the ballot box. Both have close ties to township government – Schuster was longtime supervisor of Seneca Township, and Provenzano’s wife, Bridget, is former Nunda Township clerk.
Anderson’s proposed referendum would have targeted McHenry, Nunda, Algonquin, Grafton, Dorr and Burton townships.
Voters already face one statewide advisory referendum and likely a second. They will be asked whether the minimum wage should be $10 an hour, and a second referendum asking whether a “millionaire tax” should be imposed on high-earning residents is awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature.
Republicans allege that both proposals, which stemmed from failed initiatives during the Democrat-controlled General Assembly’s spring session, are aimed at increasing Democratic voter turnout in a tight race between incumbent Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.
Joining the slew of advisory referendums will be two changes to the Illinois Constitution proposed by state lawmakers – one would create a voting rights amendment and the other would strengthen its crime victims’ rights clause. Two citizen initiatives for legislative term limits and reforming the redistricting process were thrown off the ballot last month by a judge’s ruling that they do not meet the criteria for constitutional revision.
How they voted
The McHenry County Board Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee voted Thursday, 1-4, against recommending putting an advisory referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot asking whether to decrease the size of the board to 16 single-member districts.
However, County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said she intends to bring the resolution to the full floor for a debate.
Committee member Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin, cast the sole supporting vote, while members Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, John Jung, R-Woodstock, Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, and Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, voted no. Members Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, and Robert Martens Sr., R-Spring Grove, were absent.
The committee also rejected and declined to vote on two other proposed advisory referendums.