Petition filed for referendum on Council districts
By Hank Beckman For The Sun November 29, 2012 7:12PM
Updated: January 1, 2013 6:36AM
A referendum opposing the new district system for the Naperville City Council is closer to being on the spring ballot.
Yes, Elect City Council At Large, a group opposed to the new system, filed a petition Thursday with the Naperville City Clerk’s office with the hope of placing a binding referendum on the April ballot asking voters if they want to retain the system of electing all Council members at large.
“We want people to start talking about it,” Rebecca Obarski, attorney and founder of the citizens group, said after filing a petition with 2,550 signatures of Naperville registered voters with the clerk. That is more than enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot. “Once they see it’s actually on the ballot, they can start talking with their neighbors about it.”
Voters approved the move to a system of electing five City Council members from districts and three members and the mayor at-large in a referendum question on the November 2010 ballot.
When implementing the system immediately proved impossible, a DuPage County judge ordered the city to have the election districts in place by the municipal elections of 2015.
City staff went through a yearlong process of drawing five election districts that were approved by City Council in September.
The 2010 referendum question was approved with 28,238 in favor of the district system, as opposed to 14,593 against, an almost two-to-one margin that some observers said was a clear mandate for the change.
But the citizens group argues that the electorate in 2010 was distracted by a particularly divisive national election.
Supporters of the move to the new system have repeatedly made the point that an overwhelming number of citizens supported the move and that it should be given a chance to succeed or fail on its merits.
Moreover, some question the move to scrap the new system before even one election is held with it, the fear being that it could be legally questionable to do so.
But City Attorney Margo Ely indicated that there was no legal requirement that the city hold at least one election with the district system before returning to the at-large method.
Neither Ely nor City Clerk Pamela LaFeber reported any move to challenge any of the petition signatures as the Sun went to press Thursday night.
But Ed Rivas, member of the Naperville Voter Education League and supporter of the move to the district system, thinks there very well may be a challenge, although he said he knows of none currently planned.
“I anticipate there may be,” he said. “My guess is there might be some effort to check some signatures.”
Any challenges to the petition must be filed before Jan. 7, 2013.
When Obarski founded the citizens group in August, she said that it didn’t make sense to her and the members of her group to change the at-large system.
“This shifts the perspective of the City Council members from the city at large to the individual districts,” Obarski has said. “We want to be sure before we go down that path.”
But Rivas maintains his support for the district system, noting the overwhelming support of voters in 2010.
He believes that fears of vote-swapping and a higher cost of government under a district system are unfounded, given the experience of neighboring communities like Aurora and Wheaton that have council districts.
“There’s no reason to anticipate a Cook County/Chicago type of melee,” he said.