Any hope of pushing through legislation in Springfield to force a River Forest referendum determining the future of the township government has been put on hold. As a result, the village president who had pushed the referendum last week urged residents to pursue other means to effect change while the township supervisor said back-burnering state legislation was a positive development.
In remarks made during a regular village board meeting, Village President Catherine Adduci said now that efforts to get passage of HB 4425 have stalled, citizens have to find other avenues to get their voices heard on the question.
The referendum bill, introduced by Rep. Chris Welch (D-7th), was stymied in a legislative committee and Welch had pulled it back while looking for alternatives paths to passage. It called for a binding referendum on whether township government ought to be eliminated with services and tax revenues taken over by the village government.
Speaking at the board meeting, Adduci implied that residents should attend monthly township meetings; or least 15 voters in the township could file a written statement with the township calling for a special meeting of the township.
A referendum, which would have allowed for alignment, and not for elimination of services or employees as the township had suggested, would have made good public policy sense and good fiscal sense, she said.
“I think it would have been the best response that government could have provided to help get its own ‘house’ in order,” said Adduci, who recommended that the village suspend its efforts to pursue passage of the bill for now. “HB 4425 is only the start of a conversation, a change in the conversation, one that in the end will be beneficial to the level of democracy we expect in our community.”
Carla Sloan, the township supervisor, said it would be premature to comment on any next steps until she heard officially from the village on the bill and resumption of local discussions and had a chance to speak with township trustees.
“If the legislation is not a part of the picture, I view that as a positive thing. I recognize that anything can happen,” Sloan said.
The village has made previous attempts to talk with the township about merging services. Efforts in 2012 to address consolidating services fizzled before they even started. Just this past January, a discussion about the bill between Welch and village and township officials was unproductive.
Shortly after that, the township invited both boards to sit down and talk. However, village government trustees on Feb. 24 unanimously elected to continue discussions on the administrative level feeling they might prove more productive.
Echoes of the dialogue that produced that decision bubbled up and got heated at the village board table last week. After Adduci opened up discussion to the board, Trustee Tom Dwyer – in February a supporter of village efforts on HB4425 who said at the time he could not understand why the township had such strong opposition to this — flip-flopped.
Dwyer said he didn’t like the way the village went about all this, saying the village moved way too fast.
“It’s almost something that we need to put on a 10-year to 15-year education goal and actually tell people what we are trying to do. … We took a lot of stuff on the chin as a result of it,” said Dwyer.
Trustee Tom Cargie strongly reminded Dwyer of his previous position that the merger “was a no-brainer.”
“Unfortunately the township has spun this in a way that we’re dictating a merger. This is a resolution that would let the residents decide if they wanted to continue to pay for the services currently administered by the township. That was the only question that we presented,” Cargie said.
Dwyer shot back. “We cannot jam legislation down in Springfield before we have constructive conversations with other people in the village.
Cargie said they had tried to have those conversations for a long time. Dwyer responded saying, “And they (the township) haven’t participated and shame on them for not doing that. Shame on us for throwing the legislation down in Springfield. Do I have a solution for that? No.” Dwyer said.
Asked by Adduci how he would talk to a taxpayer about it, Dwyer said “I don’t know, to go to legislation and go to referendum that was inappropriate….” Dwyer implied the question was unfair. “To spin this in three months was inappropriate….I need more time to figure this out,” Dwyer said.
Trustees Roma Colwell-Steinke, Susan Conti and Colleen Horrigan noted what the legislation did was start a conversation.
Colwell-Steinke said what River Forest attempted to do here was not new. “Evanston showed us the path to merging,” she said. “If residents really are interested in that they could look to Evanston and see what they did.”
In March, Evanston voters passed a binding referendum removing the township layer of government, which had already been administered by the city government. That effort took place after voters overwhelmingly approved an advisory referendum and then the General Assembly passed a measure allowing for a binding initiative on the merger.
“This conversation is very active and on the front page,” Conti said. “We need to continue that. The goal is to say to residents that we can do this better. What we can do to improve collaboration so residents have a better experience with the services the township offers and the services that River Forest offers and the resources that we have to bring to bear?”
There are other people who are connected with the township who do want these conversations, Dwyer said. He did not elaborate. He reiterated that it would be a five to 10-year kind of investment. Cargie said a six-month timeframe of focused debate would be sufficient.
No additional talks have been scheduled between the village and the township since the initial conversation between Village Administrator Eric Palm and Sloan in February.