Most objections to referendum withdrawn
By Hank Beckman For The Sun January 25, 2013 5:54PM
From left, City Councilman Douglas Krause, Mayor George Pradel, City Attorney Margo Ely, and City Clerk Pamela LaFeber discuss an issue during a meeting of the Naperville Electoral Board concerning the City Council referendum. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 28, 2013 6:55AM
The Naperville Electoral Board Friday accepted the withdrawal of 17 of the 25 objections filed by Paul Sjordal to the petition for a binding April referendum on keeping the at-large system for choosing Naperville City Council members.
The objections withdrawn related to the validity of signatures gathered by Yes, at Large in its effort to reverse the decision of a 2010 referendum that ushered in a new system of electing five council members from districts and the other three at-large. That system is scheduled to go into effect in 2015.
The remaining objections speak to legal matters, particularly the argument that the referendum question itself, “Shall the City of Naperville elect city council at large instead of part of the councilmen at large and part from districts,” is “excessively vague” and would result in confusing the voters.
In light of the withdrawal of all objections to signatures or circulator irregularity, the board cancelled the Jan. 26 and Jan. 28 meetings that were scheduled to examine voting records from DuPage and Will counties, instead scheduling a Jan. 29 meeting to rule on the legal objections.
After the meeting, City Attorney Margo Ely indicated that the board would likely reach a final decision concerning the referendum at that time.
While both parties ultimately agreed on withdrawing the objections, the move set off a contentious hour of give and take that saw Yes at Large attorney Kevin McQuillan call for dismissal of the entire objection, citing a rule agreed upon at the beginning of the hearing that provided the board with that option if it found either side was not acting in good faith.
Electoral Board member Doug Krause at one point warned Sjordal that his attorney, Doug Ibendahl, could be replaced.
The board and McQuillan clearly felt Ibendahl was not acting in good faith, McQuillan calling it “highly improper” and Krause said that Ibendahl “just negated what (in) the last three days happened.”
Krause was referring to the records exam conducted by not only members of Naperville staff, but also personnel from DuPage and Will counties.
McQuillan asked for dismissal of the case, but Ibendahl shot back that the legal problems with the question were such that “this petition should not have been filed in the first place.”
Opinions differed on whether or not the results of the record examination should be included in the record.
McQuillan wanted them to be excluded from evidence, while the board and Ely were suspicious of Ibendahl’s raising the question of invalid signatures on appeal.
Records obtained by the Sun showed that the tactic of objecting to signatures to be a losing one for the objector. The petitioner submitted 2,320 signatures, while the total required is based on 10 percent of voters in the last mayoral election, or 1,680.
The objector needed to find more than 640 invalid signatures to prevent the question from appearing on the April 2013 ballot, but records show that examiners were able to sustain only 275 objections.
While there were a number of signatures still to be ruled on by the Electoral Board, even if all 146 were declared invalid, an unlikely prospect, it wouldn’t have been enough to sustain the objection.
City Clerk Pam LaFeber, serving on the board with Krause and Mayor A. George Pradel, asked why Ibendahl waited an entire week to withdraw the objections.
Ibendahl repeated that his client never asked for the records check in the first place, but didn’t directly answer her question about the delay in withdrawing the objections to the signatures.
Moreover, Ibendahl never specifically said he waived the right to revisit the signatures in a future appeal, which raised board member’s suspicions.
“I’m concerned they’re going to do another binder check,” Krause said. “I have to question what your motives are.”
But Ibendahl repeatedly insisted that he had made it clear that his client was withdrawing the objections to signatures, and pointed out several times that he was confident that Sjordal’s objection was rock-solid on the remaining legal questions.
Ibendahl has maintained from the beginning of the hearing that he was confident that the legal arguments would allow his client to prevail and told the board Friday that he had found more evidence to bolster his case in the last week.
In the end, the board decided to exclude the records examination results from the record. But board members clearly thought Ibendahl had mislead them, because they approved the right to conduct a hearing at the end of the proceedings to determine whether the objector was liable to reimburse the city for part of the costs of the proceedings.
After the hearing, McQuillan said he was confident that his client would prevail on the legal issues.
“We’re very comfortable with that,” he said.
Regarding the issue of the referendum question being too vague, McQuillan dismissed the argument and pointed out that the question was written with the 2010 referendum question in mind.
“It’s a mirror image of the last referendum,” he said.