A state lawmaker suggested last month that the River Forest Township annual town meeting would be a better forum to bring up a possible referendum on whether voters should opt to merge village and township government than to adopt legislation in Springfield.
The suggestion, while directed at Rep. Chris Welch (D-7th), was also heard by Township Supervisor Carla Sloan and township attorney Patrick Deady who presented testimony at the House Counties and Townships committee on the state representative's legislation, HB 4425.
The legislator's suggestion did not emerge on the agenda of last Tuesday's River Forest annual town meeting, but only got a very brief mention.
While an unusually large crowd for an annual town meeting showed up to learn about the township, a number of the 50 residents in attendance hoping that the merger would come up walked away disappointed. That nod to the topic came during Sloan's report on her first year in her job.
It wasn't addressed, Sloan noted because "I did not think it was an appropriate place for it," she said. "If electors wanted (to discuss) it, it was up to them to bring an issue to the agenda."
But given that this is a major township/village concern, this is the appropriate place to put it on the agenda," River Forest Trustee Tom Cargie said.
It absolutely was the right place, said Molly Hague, president of the River Forest Park District. "They're spending a lot of money to defend it. Why not discuss it?"
The township has stated its opposition to HB 4425, Sloan said, noting another reason for not putting it on the agenda. Sloan said no one had come to a township meeting or any other public meeting and expressed an interest in this issue.
In a recent interview with Wednesday Journal, Sloan acknowledged that in October 2012 Village Administrator Eric Palm came to a township meeting at the behest of the village board to discuss collaborating and merging. Nothing came of that discussion. It came up again this past January when village and township officials met with Welch to discuss the bill, Sloan acknowledged in the same interview. A meeting was set in February between Sloan and Palm. No other discussions have taken place since then.
Sloan said township trustees set the town meeting agenda at its March 11 meeting, including covering annual reports and passing several important resolutions. Notices about the meeting and the agenda were posted in three prominent places at least 10 days before the meeting. Agendas are approved at the previous meeting, and residents had until March 1 to put an item on the agenda.
For residents to put an item on the agenda 15 or more registered voters in the township could have given written notice to Township Clerk Karen Taubman no later than March 1. The process for putting an item on the agenda was not made clear by the township, and it is unknown whether a notice was sent out to the public publicizing that information.
"If electors wanted it on the agenda, they could find out how to do that," she said. "We do not believe it's our mission to educate the public on statutes. We're obligated to provide notice and let people know what's happening. We did everything we were required to do."
Township officials stuck to the prepared agenda. The audience – with residents sitting on one side of the Community Center's community room and about 20 or so non-residents on the other -- heard annual reports on senior, youth services, mental health and general assistance. Assessor Pamela Kende also made a presentation.
They also found out about the township's financial picture. The township's town, or general fund, which covers a lot of its expenses, had a balance of $594,193 on March 31, 2014, the end of the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Approximately $1.133 million were available as of April 1, 2013. The township's disbursements during the fiscal year totaled $539,141. The figures were subject to an audit April 8.
Sloan said the 12-month fund balance was reasonable, according to conversations she had with officials from the Township Officials of Illinois, other townships, attorneys and auditors. The money, she said, could be used for increased programming.
"They said that we did not want to go much higher. I've been told that where we are is good. The budget is so small that a 12-month balance is not an extraordinary amount of money," Sloan said.
Residents in attendance, called electors, also approved resolutions reaffirming its programs, leasing of township space in the community center and all intergovernmental agreements.
Matters were not debated or discussed. The only questions that came up during the more than 90 minute meeting came from Hague wondering why resolutions distributed before the session were different from ones read by the evening's moderator Buff Martin.
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