In their final meeting before handing over the reins to three new trustees, members of the Riverside Village Board will vote on a resolution that would place a binding referendum question on the March 2020 presidential primary ballot asking to limit terms for trustees and the village president.

A majority of the village board on March 7 stated a preference for the resolution containing a referendum question that would limit both trustees and the village president to three consecutive four-year terms. In addition the term limits in the question would apply to sitting elected officials.

That question, which represented a compromise between members of the board who are against term limits and those who wanted to limit elected officials to two consecutive terms, could be revised during its consideration at the regularly scheduled board meeting on April 18.

The meeting will be the final full session before a new board is seated May 2. Trustees Joseph Ballerine, Scott Lumsden and Michael Sedivy will be leaving the board. All are in favor of term limits.

Lumsden expressed willingness to assent to the compromise question, while Sedivy and Trustee Wendell Jisa held firm on their preference for two consecutive terms.

President Ben Sells and trustees Elizabeth Peters and Doug Pollock have voiced opposition to term limits, making Ballerine something of a swing voter on the issue.

In agreeing to the compromise question, Ballerine said he was did so out of respect for trustees who oppose term limits and who will remain on the board after May 2.

“I’m sitting looking at you trustees that have two-and-a-half years of more meetings and I think out of respect for Trustee Peters and Trustee Pollock, I think it’s only right that we side with the board … that will have to defend this tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Peters, Pollock and Sells said they would support a resolution containing a question that limited trustees and the president to three consecutive terms because they felt a two-term limit wasn’t in the best interest of the village.

“If we’re going to put it on the ballot, I want it in a way that does the least amount of damage to the village,” Pollock said. “Because, as I’ve said before, I have yet to hear a good reason why we need term limits.”

Board members, meanwhile, disagreed on the just how widespread the call for term limits was among residents. Some, like Lumsden said he’d been approached by residents to broach the subject because they were concerned about Riverside government’s transparency.

“We need to look at why people are asking some of us to bring this up,” Lumsden said. “And I think that has to do a lot with whatever perception or reality of us of confidence in transparency.”

Both Jisa and Sedivy in the past have said they’d heard near universal support for a referendum on term limits, though there has been some pushback more recently, according to Jisa.

Sells, however, said he’d been approached by no one advocating for term limits. Nevertheless, Sells said he’d favor a referendum question allowing three consecutive terms “given the choices that we have.”

With respect to frustration about the village board’s performance, Sells said, “If you’re frustrated with us up here, run for office.”

There are three trustee seats up for election on April 2. There are three candidates in the race.

If the term-limit resolution passes on April 18, the newly seated village board could opt to take no action – which would result in a referendum being placed on the March 2020 ballot – or that board could vote to overturn the resolution and kill the referendum effort.

Brookfield imposed term limits in 1978

Since 2010, voters in more than a dozen northern Illinois municipalities have voted to impose term limits on their elected officials.

Riverside’s village attorney, Michael Marrs, provided the village board with information on those municipalities, several in Cook County, including Harvey, Hazel Crest, Dolton, Calumet City, Tinley Park, Crestwood, Alsip, Oak Lawn, Franklin Park, Broadview, Country Club Hills and Des Plaines.

But one of the first Cook County municipalities to adopt term limits may well have been Brookfield, which ushered in the practice of limiting its trustees and village president to two consecutive terms in 1978.

When voters went to the polls that year, former village president Philip Hollinger was in federal prison after being convicted of extortion and tax evasion related to kickbacks he received from a tree-trimming company.

Hollinger, whose nickname was “L’il Napoleon,” was first elected president in 1961 and was in the midst of his fourth term as president in 1976 when he was convicted after a seven-day trial in U.S. District Court.

A former Brookfield village manager, who testified against Hollinger at the trial, had previously pleaded guilty to tax fraud, according to a Chicago Tribune story from the time.

In 1988, Brookfield voters got a chance to rescind that decision when a new referendum asked voters to eliminate term limits. However, residents voted to keep term limits intact.