Electoral Board to meet today on Council referendum issue
By Hank Beckman For The Sun January 28, 2013 5:06PM
Updated: January 29, 2013 11:34AM
The Yes, at Large group is confident that its petition to place a binding referendum question on the April ballot keeping City Council elections at-large will be found legal and sufficient by the Naperville Electoral Board when it meets again today.
But Doug Ibendahl, attorney for the objector, is just as confident that the petition question itself will fall short, if not at Tuesday’s hearing, then on appeal.
“This is an unusual case,” Ibendahl said in a Sunday telephone interview. “It’s not a signature case.”
Ibendahl referred to the decision by he and his client Paul Sjordal to drop all of the objections to signatures and circulator errors and focus on the questions of the legality of the proposed referendum question, which says: “Shall the city of Naperville elect the city council at large instead of part of the councilmen at large and part of the councilmen from districts?”
While some on the Electoral Board were of the clear opinion that the withdrawal was prompted by the objector’s knowledge that he didn’t have enough signature errors to disqualify the petition, Ibendahl has consistently maintained that the proposed question itself is improper under the law, for several reasons.
First, Ibendahl charges that the petition question submitted by Yes at Large actually sought to gain approval for both a binding and non-binding question to be placed on the ballot.
“It’s like saying I’m running for state representative and state senator, whichever I get the most votes for,” he said.
Second, Ibendahl’s motion claims that the referendum question itself violates state law and cites a 1986 case, Leck v. Michaelson, where the Illinois State Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a Lansing referendum that implemented a run-off election for council members if none garnered 50 percent of the vote.
The court’s opinion was that the referendum was within the power of the village to conduct, but that because of confusion over the method of calculating 50 percent of the vote in different scenarios, was vague and likely to confuse voters.
Ibandahl argues that because a DuPage judge ordered the new City Council system implemented by 2015, the question posed by Yes at Large is not only vague but also violated Illinois election law because candidates running in the 2013 election will be limited to 10 years of possible service under new term limits OK’d by Naperville voters in 2010.
Moreover, the motion for summary judgement contends that the objector is being denied due process of the law by not having a fair and impartial hearing.
Ibendahl cites two of the board members, Councilman Doug Krause and Mayor George Pradel, as being unable to render an impartial decision, Pradel because he signed the petition to place the referendum question on the ballot and Krause because he’s running for re-election.
Moreover, Ibendahl maintains that City Attorney Margo Ely has improperly communicated with the petitioner by email.
Ely responded by email that she was asked by a City Council member to respond to a legal question regarding the districts and did so in her capacity as city attorney.
“City Council is entitled to legal counsel,” she said at the close of the Jan. 25 Electoral Board hearing.
Krause completely rejected Ibendahl’s charge that he was biased, pointing out that the first election with the hybrid system doesn’t take place until 2015.
“It doesn’t effect my election one way or another,” he said.
Krause also pointed out that he’d served on Council for 23 years and his experience would be valuable to the petition hearing.
Pradel declined comment, citing his legal responsibilities as chairman of the Electoral Board.
As for the question being improper, Yes at Large Attorney Kevin McQuillan told the Sun Jan. 25 that he and his client were “very comfortable” with the legal status of the question, stressing that the question submitted was a “mirror image” of the 2010 referendum question that resulted in an almost two to one vote in favor of the district system for Council representation.