Judge’s decision clears way for City Council referendum
By Hank Beckman For The Sun February 22, 2013 5:50PM
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:46AM
DuPage County Judge Bonnie Wheaton Friday upheld the Naperville Electoral Board’s decision to allow a binding refendum on the April 9 ballot concerning Naperville’s system for electing City Council members.
The referendum drive has been spearheaded by Yes, at Large, a group that wants to keep the current system of electing all City Council members at large. In 2015, a new system is set to begin that would have five Council members elected from districts, with the remaining three elected at large.
Wheaton said that although the municipal code Yes, at Large filed their petition under did not precisely address the particular case, it was in keeping with the spirit of the statute.
“I believe it does apply to this situation,” Wheaton said.
Wheaton also said that objector Paul Sjordal’s charge that Yes, at Large’s petition was misleading and vague on whether the referendum was to be binding or non-binding was a non-issue, and that she could find no evidence of any bias by the Naperville Electoral Board in its decision to allow the referendum on the ballot.
Sjordal was disappointed after the ruling, saying that the at large system gives incumbents “considerable advantages” and that he got involved because of the delay in implementing the district system, which was approved by a two-to-one margin in a 2010 referendum.
“We have to look at the question of appealing,” he said.
Sjordal’s attorney, Doug Ibendahl, would only say: “We respectfully disagree with what (the judge) did today.”
But on the question of Yes, at Large presenting information on both binding and non-binding referendums for the spring, Ibendahl was firm.
“It’s unprecedented,” he said. “She made new law today.”
But Yes, at Large attorney Kevin McQuillan scoffed at the notion that Wheaton’s ruling was a precedent.
“The reason there is no case law is that it’s common sense,” he said.
Yes, at Large’s co-founder, Rebecca Obarski, left the hearing upbeat.
“I’m delighted and ready to start campaigning,” she said.
During arguments before Wheaton, Ibendahl argued that Yes, at Large filed their petition papers under the wrong section of the Illinois Municipal Code and warned that allowing the Naperville Electoral Board’s decision to stand would “invite future mischief.”
Ibendahl also stressed the overwhelming nature of the victory of the district system in the 2010 referendum.
McQuillan argued that ballot access was a crucial issue and the 2010 petition to approve the district system being successful didn’t end the public conversation.
“While the voters have spoken, the voters may keep on speaking,” he said.
While Sjordal maintains he is unsure about appealing due to the cost, McQuillan expects an appeal, “if they stay true to form.”