An objection filed by two area residents to the roughly 4,300 petition signatures gathered last month by residents seeking to force a referendum on a $17.5 million working bond issue — authorized by the District 200 school board in order to build a $37.5 million pool facility at Oak Park and River Forest High School — was overturned by an Cook County electoral hearing officer on Jan. 11.
The hearing officer’s decision, however, doesn’t mean the matter is headed to referendum. A three-person electoral board, which will make an official ruling on the matter, will consider the officer’s recommendation to overturn the objection when it hears the case, which could be as early as this week.
Earlier this month, Scott Erdman, an attorney representing Monica Sheehan, the Oak Park resident who led the petition drive, filed a motion to strike an objection to the petitions that was filed in December by Wayne Franklin and Matthew Kosterman.
“We don’t feel that the petition process was appropriately done,” said Franklin in a recent interview. “We feel it was done in a fraudulent and misrepresentative fashion. It doesn’t reflect the spirit of democracy. We’re not afraid of a referendum. We feel we’d win a referendum. I’m concerned about the bastardization of this process by the proponents of the petition referendum.”
Franklin said he and Kosterman have videos of petitions sheets on people’s porches and they have mail, “which basically tells people to go by certain people’s houses and just sign the petition. We have a lot of evidence that basically shows they were not following the rules.”
At an electoral board hearing on Jan. 7, Erdman argued for his motion to dismiss Franklin’s and Kosterman’s objection on the grounds that they missed the Dec. 18 deadline for filing it.
Anish Parikh, Franklin and Kosterman’ attorney, argued the two men consulted an election official, the Illinois State Board of Elections 2016 candidate’s guide and its website, along with the website of the Cook County Clerk, and got a different deadline — Dec. 21, which is when they filed their objection.
“We substantially relied on information that’s distributed to the public … and did everything in our power to confirm the date,” Parikh said, adding that the deadlines to file petitions and objections weren’t clear.
But Erdman insisted that the process was clear cut. The petitioners had between Nov. 11 — when District 200 published its notice of intention to issue $17.5 million in bonds in Wednesday Journal — and Dec. 11 to file. Sheehan turned in the roughly 4,300 petition signatures at around 3:50 p.m. on Dec. 11.
Erdman pointed out that the Election Code requires petition objections to be filed within five business days after the petition filing deadline. In this case, the objectors’ deadline was Dec. 18, he argued.
He also pointed out that the preface to the candidates’ guide notes that legal information “contained in this guide is not binding and should not be construed as sufficient argument in response to an objection to any candidate’s nominating papers.”
Parikh argued that his clients substantially complied with the law and that their objection should be upheld. On Jan. 11, the hearing officer ruled that Franklin and Kosterman were not in compliance.
“There is no substantial compliance cases I see that allow for a candidate or an objector to file late,” said hearing officer Frank Tedesso. “[There are] minor errors, but there are certain things that are mandatory. If an objector fails to state his name or address or that he’s a registered voter — those are mandatory, as well as filing in a timely fashion.”
“The deadline is the deadline,” said Sheehan. “We understood, and the school board president said, there were five business days they could actually file an objection to that petition.”
Kosterman and Franklin have the option of filing an appeal within 24 hours after the hearing officer files his recommendation.
Franklin said that he’ll probably appeal the decision, but that he’d need to consult with Kosterman before that decision was finalized. The electoral board will have the option of either granting their appeal and rehearing the arguments of both sides, or upholding the hearing officer’s recommendation.
The objectors could technically appeal all the way up to the Illinois Supreme Court.