By Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle
Niles mayor Andrew Przybylo said he wanted to address the criticism he and the village board received after voting to fill all referenda slots for the next two elections.
Instead, during the June 27 meeting, he spent the bulk of his speech sharply criticizing referenda submitted by Niles activist Joe Makula. He reserved special ire for the referendum that took away Niles mayors’ ability to fill trustee vacancy and a proposed referendum to require all “taxing districts” be approved by voters – arguing that the former could potentially cripple the village government and that the later would have hurt the village’s property tax revenues. This led former trustee Rosemary Palicki to accuse Przybylo of crossing the line, saying that he was dispariging residents simply for disagreeing with him.
During the June 13 special village board meeting, the trustees voted unanimously to put three advisory referenda on the March 20, 2018 ballot and three more advisory referenda on Nov. 6, 2018 ballot. Because there are only three referenda slots available per ballot, this affectively means that no citizen-launched referenda can go up on the ballot for the next two elections.
In recent years, Makula attempted to launch a number of referenda on every ballot where there was room. In November 2014, voters approved a referendum that took away mayors’ powers to fill vacancies. Instead, it would be filled by voters during the nearest municipal election.
In December 2016, Makula launched two referenda. The first referendum would require voter approval any time Niles creates a “taxing district.” The second referendum would require that at least two of the three referenda slots on the ballot be reserved for refereda launched by voters. Both referenda were thrown off the ballot during the Jan. 26 Niles Electoral Board meeting.
As it’s usually the case in Illinois, the board was made up the mayor, the village clerk and the senior-most trustee.
In his speech during the June 27 meeting, Przybylo started out defending the referenda that went on the next two ballots.
“They were in no way frivolous or not useful,” he said. “In fact, all referendums have been instructional and inspirational for this board.”
The mayor then went on to note that referenda tend to get decided by only a portion of eligible voters. Indeed, as previously reported by the Bugle, the turnout for the trustee vacancy referendum was 39 percent. Przybylo said that, if a referendum is binding, this can have far-reaching consequences.
“Referendums, because they’re written to be cleverly simplistic, will usually be voted [on] in the affirmative, even if the results for homeowners are disastrous,” he said.
The mayor cited the trustee vacancy referendum as an example
“Here we have Joe Makula telling voters that their voting rights are being trampled upon.” he said. “It makes it sound like, once I appoint them, they serve for life, and that’s not true.”
Przybylo argued that, before the trustee vacancy referendum, voters already had a say in the vacancy filling process. All vacancies must be approved by trustees, who are elected, and when a vacancy is filled, it must go up on the ballot again in the nearest municipal election.
The mayor reiterated the argument he made when the referendum went on the ballot. At the time, As attorneys from the Ancel Glick law firm explained that, under state law, if there are three vacancies on the board at once, the remaing trustees will not be able to cast votes dealing with emergency disaster relief, lease of equipment and machinery, reject arbitration decisions in village union contracts, issue bonds for water and sewer repairs, and transfer funds between village departments.
“Frankly, you have to wonder if these reformers hate the government so much that they want to kill it, or bankrupt it,” Przybylo said.
Turning to the taxing district referendum, the mayor argued that, when it comes to tax incentives, speed was key. He cited a December 2013 deal between the village of Niles and Costco in December 2013. At the time, the chain was contemplating moving its Niles location to Morton Grove where it would have enough room to build gas pumps. If Costco bought the former Landmark Ford dealership site and build its gas pumps there, the village would refund back $3 million in the sales tax it collected – enough to compensate the company for demolition and development costs. Costco used half the land to build the bumps and sold the other half to Aldi, which used it to move its Niles location to a new, bigger building.
Makula’s referendum didn’t definite what the term “taxing district” means, but Makula previously told the Bugle that he meant for it to include Tax Increment Financing districts, property tax based Cook County incentives and other designations that would affect property taxes. Because the Costco deal involved sales taxes rather than property taxes, it is not clear whether it would have fallen under the referendum.
The mayor ended his speech with a warning.
“If someone comes [to your door] you can’t be a low-information voter anymore, there’s too much at stake,” Przybylo said. “There are a lot of people who are anti-government, they state falsehoods that aren’t legitimate. This is serious business. We’re trying to keep your taxes low and your services the best. Be very careful with referendums”
This led to a rebuke from Palicki.
“I can’t believe that people who stand up here [to speak] are being called names by the mayor,” she said. “You’re saying that you spread falsehoods, that we’re low-information voters.”
Palicki noted that, as a resident, she and others can express their opinions by speaking up at board meetings. And she said she found the mayor’s warning ironic.
“There’s no fear now, because nobody will be ringing their [doorbells] until 2019,” she said.
The former trustee ended her statement by calling for civility.
“I hope that we can come to a point where us and elected officials can disagree and not call each other names,” Palicki said. “I’m very disappointed by what transpired here tonight.”