The sponsor of legislation allowing River Forest voters to decide whether to merge village and township governments elected Tuesday morning to find other avenues to get his legislation heard in Springfield.
After a hearing before the Counties and Townships committee, Rep. Chris Welch (D-7th) pulled his bill and said he will pursue all available avenues in House rules to give it a fair chance during the current session.
"When I walked into the room, I knew the members of the committee would not support it," Welch said. "I want a fair hearing and want it to be considered on its merits. It has strong bipartisan support. I'll see if it gets called."
Welch also listened to testimony on legislation sponsored by Rep. Jack Franks (D-63) on similar consolidation issues, watched the committee and did not think the panel would approve it.
Welch and River Forest Village Administrator Eric Palm testified in favor of the bill; River Forest Township Supervisor Carla Sloan spoke against it. Attending the hearing and providing a bit of information about the township was Patrick Deady, the agency's attorney.
Until the bill reaches the House floor, lobbying on Welch's proposal very well may grow. A flurry of email in opposition had been sent around River Forest from township Supervisor Carla Sloan and Assessor Pam Kende urging residents to call Springfield to keep the measure from passing in committee. One email contained a memorandum to Township Officials from Bryan E. Smith, executive director of the Township Officials of Illinois, which is heavily lobbying against the measure.
Meanwhile village government supporters of the consolidation, including Village President Cathy Adduci and Trustee Tom Cargie, worked their e-mail lists urging calls to Springfield, too.
The township will continue doing its own legal work related to the legislation. Township trustees, during their February meeting, voted to retain their attorney, in a separate contract, to work predominantly on issues related to HB 4425. A PR firm was also brought on board in February to hone the township's message and raise its visibility.
Both actions and their associated costs raised the intensity of the debate in River Forest.
The law firm Hogan Marren and Patrick Deady, an attorney with the firm, will receive $2,500 a month for three months to help the township with questions on how to proceed legally, Sloan said. That special contract could be renewed after it expires, she added. Deady has been the township's attorney since 2009.
"Someone is attempting to eliminate us," said Sloan, who commented that Deady would not be lobbying the township's position in Springfield. "We are required to understand the legislation and what's going on with the legislature. The work involving the bill was becoming larger in scope and more complex. We need all the assistance we can get."
Matt Baron, a local public relations person, will be paid $10,000 for 3-1/2 months; that agreement also could be extended.
"Who knows where it (HB 4425) is going and how long it's going to last," said Sloan.
Both efforts were blasted by Adduci, who said the village has no intention of hiring any lobbyists or communications PR person to help in its efforts.
"I don't see the value in one unit of government fighting the other and spending its money to do it. I would have put that money into additional human services such as youth services," she said.
Adduci said she and the village board strongly feel it is in the best interests of River Forest for the two boards to sit down collaboratively with each other and talk about how this merger can be successful, "as opposed to hiring outside consultants to argue each other's positions," she said.
Earlier this year, River Forest Village Administrator Eric Palm and Sloan met for about an hour to talk about mutual concerns related to consolidation. In February, the township invited the village to talk about the former's positions; the village board chose to continue discussions between Palm and Sloan.
The township's moves also were criticized by Welch, who commented that money would be better spent on seniors and youth and other programs. "This bill allows for citizen participation in the democratic process; whether residents want township government or not. I don't see what's wrong with that."
The legislation would allow a referendum to be placed on the ballot calling for consolidation of a coterminous village and township. If successful, services would be transferred to and performed by the village six months after the measure is approved by voters. The bill also calls for a tax to be levied that would be designated to pay for social services. The village would assume oversight of all township assets, including the Community Center. The role of the township elected officials also would end.
The responsible party for placing the question on the ballot would rest with the township.
If the township fails to do that, residents can submit to township trustees petitions containing the signatures of 5 percent of the registered voters; that would require the board to put the question on the General Election ballot on Nov. 4 or the consolidated election ballot in April 2015. If the township still fails to do that, residents can take the township to court.
A spokesman for Cook County Clerk David Orr could not comment on any pending legislation and would be able to do so – and speak to prospective deadlines – once the bill becomes law.
The bill was amended because when it was analyzed, the House Democratic General Counsel's office found that the township is not coterminous with the village, Welch said. There is a part of unincorporated Cook County with River Forest addresses, but that is not part of the village. Specifics on that were not available.