The ad hoc committee appointed to study the issue of River Forest seeking home rule powers returned majority and minority reports to the board of trustees after voting 5-4 in favor of the issue.
With the closeness of the vote and a detailed minority report that is four times the length of the majority report, it’s clear that no referendum will be placed on the ballot in 2007.
Village President Frank Paris and other home rule supporters had hoped to have the committee’s decision by last September so as to allow time for board debate and a public education campaign. Those plans were frustrated when the committee worked on into the fall. With the committee’s final vote, those plans are effectively scuttled for the coming year.
According to committee member Steve Hoke, the nine members held four straw votes before finally voting on Dec. 4. Larry Hansen, Rogue Weiland, Amy McCormack, and Jeff McClelland voted yes, while Hoke, Rosemary Johnson, Tagger O’Brien, and Kristine Raino-Ogden voted no. Committee chairman P.J. Hosty then broke the tie with a yes vote.
In the end, it largely came down to different philosophies of government, between those who in general trust local government to do what’s in the best interest of the community and are willing to grant elected officials broader powers, and those who don’t and favor tighter restrictions on powers to tax and regulate.
“In particular we should not fear entrusting local governments, especially in medium and modest-sized communities like River Forest, with powers they need to do their job properly,” the majority report read.
The majority noted five reasons for advocating home rule in a three-page report, including greater flexibility in dealing with village issues, including freedom from state mandates; more local control over zoning and licensing decisions; a more diversified tax base that will help reduce the property tax burden; improved fiscal planning and budgeting; and improved bond ratings and lower interest on debt.
Proponents acknowledged that there isn’t a compelling issue for passage at present, but that the village should be prepared for that eventuality.
However, the minority report insisted that that lack of any current need for such powers is in fact the primary reason to vote against any referendum. “No compelling reason exists to recommend vast new home rule powers,” the minority report is headlined. Calling home rule a “solution in search of a problem,” the minority report opines that home rule would be used to raise taxes, and not necessarily reduce the property tax burden.
River Forest, they argued, already has the power as a non-home rule government to raise sales taxes to 1 percent, and that revenue is required to be used to reduce property taxes.
Trustee Michael O’Connell, who characterized himself as “agnostic” on the issue, said he’d read both reports and didn’t feel the majority had done an adequate job making the case.
“I thought the economic arguments weren’t necessarily compelling,” he said. The minority report, he added, did an excellent job of outlining the anti-home rule case.
“It’s one of the best pieces of research we could ever expect to come out of a citizen committee,” he said.
Trustee Al Swanson, a strong home rule proponent, withheld comment on the reports, saying he hadn’t had a chance to analyze them. He thanked everyone who gave considerable time to the committee, but expressed disappointment at the final results.
“I think home rule is in the best interests of the community,” he said. “I’m disappointed there wasn’t stronger support.”
Swanson argued that a strong education effort was still needed. Committee member Amy McCormack agreed, saying that the board needed to take the lead on any educational effort.
“There needs to be education to allay any concerns,” she said. “They’re trying to serve us, and we need to give them the tools to do that effectively.”
Hoke, however, said the issue is settled in his mind.
“The fact that the commission ended up so divided, when the village had tried to build up momentum in favor of Home Rule in advance of its formation, tells you pretty much all you need to know-the case for home rule just hasn’t been made,” he said.
Swanson clearly doesn’t plan to give up.
“I don’t intend for 2007 to be wasted time on the home rule issue,” he said.
That’s fine with O’Connell. “I still think it’s important to continue talking about it,” he said, adding that he’d favor placing the issue before voters as a referendum.