Objection filed to referendum on new City Council system
By Hank Beckman For The Sun January 16, 2013 5:04PM
Naperville city attorney Margo Ely, center, listens as lawyers voice their concerns during a Referendum Objection Meeting in Naperville's City Council Chambers about the smart meters getting put on the ballot in March on Tuesday, January 3, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 2:16PM
Naperville resident Paul Sjordal has filed an objection to signatures on the petition to place a binding referendum question on the April ballot concerning doing away with the new district system for the Naperville City Council.
Filing on the last day that objections to the petition were permitted, Sjordal’s objection contends that the question is insufficiently specific as to whether or not a binding referendum is sought by the petitioner, Yes, at Large, a citizens group seeking to keep the current process of electing City Council members at-large. The new district system, which would have five Council members elected from districts and three elected at-large, is scheduled to begin in 2015.
“Accordingly, the Objector states the Petition Papers are insufficient at law in their entirety as such Petition Papers are unreasonably vague, non-specific, and it is impossible to determine whether Proponent seeks a binding referendum pursuant to 65 IL CS 5-2-18.1 of the Illinois Municipal Code, or a non-binding referendum pursuant to 10 ILCS 5/28-6 of the Illinois Election Code,” reads the first of 25 stated objections.
Moreover, the objection claims that while the group’s petition purports to show more than 2,000 signatures, many are invalid and don’t meet either the standard of the Illinois Municipal Code or Illinois Election Code.
Rebecca Obarski, co-founder of Yes, at Large, said she was “disappointed that someone felt that they needed to object.” She also expressed confidence that her group’s petition would stand on its merits.
“I feel confident that the question was clear and understandable and in compliance with the statute,” she said.
Regarding the number of signatures, Obarski said the group would review them, but also expressed confidence that they would end up with enough valid signatures to place the question on the April ballot.
Sjordal’s attorney, Doug Ibendahl, had a different take on the matter.
“They’re trying to head off the will of the voters,” Ibendahl said, while stressing the lopsided nature of the 2010 referendum victory for the new district system, when residents voted two-to-one in favor of the measure. “The voters spoke in 2010 and said they wanted this new system.”
The city has scheduled a hearing at 2:30 p.m. today at the Naperville Muncipal Center on the matter, during which the Naperville Electoral Board will hear testimony from the two parties and possibly make a ruling on the objection to the referendum. The board consists of Mayor A. George Pradel, Naperville City Clerk Pam LaFeber and Naperville City Council member Doug Krause.
The public is invited to attend the meeting. The hearing will also be broadcast live and rebroadcast on government access TV station WCNC.
Ibendahl was also before the Electoral Board last year, representing a group of residents who wanted to get a referendum on the ballot to overturn the Smart Grid electrical system. The board decided not to allow the issue on the ballot, ruling that the petition didn’t have the required amount of signatures from registered voters to go on the ballot. The decision was later upheld in court.
The decision to move to a district system is the result of a 2010 binding referendum that saw 28,236 voters approve the move to the new system, while 14,593 voted against the move.
Once approved, the city found that implementing the system in time for the 2011 elections was unworkable and appealed the matter to a DuPage court, which ordered that the new system be implemented no later than the 2015 municipal elections.
The districts drawn by the cty for the system could have been drawn to contain 28,370 residents each based on the 2010 census, but city staff chose to allow for growth in District 5, in the southernmost portion of the Naperville.
District 5 has 24,813 residents, while the other four districts range between 28,600 and 29,900 residents.
Yes, at Large formed in 2012 to work toward its own binding referendum question: “Shall the City of Naperville elect the Cty Council at large instead of part of the councilmen from districts?”
The general position of Yes has been that the city has prospered under the at-large system and that election districts would only lead to the horse-trading and machine-style politics common in big cities.