By Igor Studenkov
For the Bugle
Park Ridge residents may be asked to vote on whether they want to make the city clerk position appointed rather then elected during next year’s congressional election.
During the Aug. 28 Procedures and Regulations Committee of the Whole meeting, the aldermen discussed whether it was worth the trouble to launch the referendum. The supporters felt that, with long-time incumbent Betty Henneman announcing that she would not run again, it was a good time to let the voters decide on the nature of the position. The opponents argued that there wasn’t any public demand for the change, so there was no point it doing a referendum. Henneman herself said she would prefer to keep her position elected. In the end, the aldermen agreed to continue the discussion, and that, if they were going to hold a referendum, it would be better to hold it during the November election than the lower-turnout primary election scheduled for March 2018.
In Illinois municipalities, clerks are elected positions by default. According to a memorandum prepared by city attorney Julie Tappendorf, a home rule municipality such as Park Ridge can change it to an appointed position through a referendum. Park Ridge City Council would need to pass a resolution that would put the referendum question on the ballot at least 79 days before the election. The referendum question must then be filled with the County Clerk, who must certify it at least 68 days before the election. The majority of the voters would then need to vote in favor of the change, and the City Council would have to adopt an ordinance to make the change official.
The elected clerk would serve out the remainder of her term. The mayor would then appoint her successor – and every other city clerk thereafter – but the City Council would have to approve that choice.
Tappendorf’s memo explained that, in order to place the referendum question on a March 20, 2018 ballot, the City Council would need to adopt the resolution before the middle of December 2017.
Morton Grove has an elected city clerk. As previously reported by the Bugle, Niles’ village clerk became an appointed position in the late 1980s after a successful referendum. However, since then, activist Joe Makula attempted to file a referendum to reverse the decision. Niles Electoral Board, is made up of the mayor, the village clerk and the longest-serving trustee, and Makula argued that having a village clerk who is appointed by a mayor has a conflict of interest.
Ald. Marc Mazzzuca (6th) said he supported the referendum, but his concern was timing.
“One of the concerns that’s been raised in the past [is about] putting a referendum question the ballot in an excellently low-turnout election,” he said. “I think the turnout would be significantly higher for a November referendum question.”
A change of government like this, Mazucca argued, required the highest turnout possible.
Ald. Nicholas Milissis (2nd) wondered whether there was any compelling reason to do the referendum other than Henneman’s retirement, leading Ald. John Moran (1st) to lay out his reasons. He said he was worried that, after the current clerk’s retirement, the position could become too political, and that some candidates would try to get it purely as a source of extra post-retirement income.
“I’d hate to see someone take position for the salary, put in less then full effort of doing the job,” Moran said.
When asked for her take, Henneman said she would prefer to keep the current set-up.
“I’d hate to see it downgraded by people being just appointed,” he said. “This has been my career, and I kind of hate to see it go to open market, shall we say.”
Mazucca said that he didn’t have any preference one way or another – but he felt that residents deserved a chance to have their say.
“There are generations of people who haven’t known any clerk other than Betty,” he said. “I’m not convinced there’s anyone who would do it with more heart and attention to detail as Betty.”
Milissis noted that a municipal clerk’s office is one of the state’s oldest institutions, and he didn’t see any particular demand for removing it.
“I appreciate the representational role of having someone who’s been elected to the people set the agenda, set the tone, set the priority and set the office to provide a lot of services to residents,” he said. “To me, it seems a little internationalist to force us to interject ourselves into process and force the question.”
Milissis said that, if there were concerns about residents running for the position simply for the salary, the city council could simply lower the salary. He also argued that, if there is a demand to change the current set-up, residents can collect enough signatures to put the question on the ballot.
Ald. Gail Wilkening (3rd), who chairs the committee, said that she felt that issue was at least worth further discussion. The rest of the aldermen agreed, deciding that they are going to try to put it on the ballot, they would aim for the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot.