By Bob Uphues
Riverside Village President Ben Sells made it clear last week that he won't vote to reject a new referendum question asking voters if they want term limits for local elected officials.
If the deciding vote came down to him, Sells said, he would uphold his promise made prior to the election last spring of three new trustees -- that even if a majority of trustees rejected the idea of term limits in the future he would honor the compromise trustees made when they approved a term-limit referendum question in April.
"One of the concerns the people who reached the compromise had was that this newly constituted board would go back and overturn the compromise that had been reached by the prior board," Sells said during a discussion of the subject at the village board's Oct. 3 meeting. "I made it clear that I would not do that, so if I'm put in a position where I have to break the tie, I'm going to vote to have the term limits."
Trustees meanwhile put off until at least Oct. 17 a vote on approving a resolution for a new term-limit referendum question that has become necessary after the Illinois General Assembly in July changed state law on how such questions can be framed.
When Riverside trustees voted unanimously in April to approve the referendum question, it sought to limit trustees and the president to three consecutive terms. In addition, the language adopted by trustees made the limit retroactive, meaning the limit would apply to anyone already holding office.
For example, Sells is serving his second term as president. According to the language of the referendum question, if approved by voters, Sells would be limited to just one more term as president.
However, the Illinois General Assembly voted that the language of any term-limit referendum question – retroactive to November 2016 – must be prospective.
In other words, even though Sells has already served two consecutive terms, those wouldn't count against him if he sought the office in the future. He could, theoretically, serve three more consecutive terms starting with the next village presidential election in 2021, if voters chose to elect him.
Trustees chose to postpone the vote on the new question, however, because three trustees – Cristin Evans, Alex Gallegos and Doug Pollock -- voiced opposition to any sort of term limit for local elected politicians.
Elizabeth Peters and Edward Hannon supported the new term-limit resolution, but Trustee Wendell Jisa was absent from the meeting, meaning that a vote on the resolution on Oct. 3 likely would have failed by a vote of 3-2.
Village Attorney Lance Malina stated that if the present referendum question remained the one on the ballot, and it was passed by voters, it probably would simply be enforced with the prospective language superseding the question's language per state law.
However, he warned, allowing an essentially misleading referendum question to make the ballot could open the village up to a legal challenge, and it could also affect how people vote.
For example, Malina said, it's possible that someone who might support term limits prospectively would vote against the question if it were phrased retroactively.
"It's not the most accurate referendum, because it purports to ask something that you really don't have the power to do anymore, and it potentially could change the outcome," Malina said.
Jisa strongly supported term limits when the subject surfaced earlier this year. He initially supported limiting elected officials in Riverside to two consecutive terms, but agreed to three terms, retroactively, when the two-term limit was voted down by a 4-3 vote in April.
Reached via email last week, Jisa said he hadn't watched the meeting video and would comment after he did. He didn't respond prior to the Landmark's press time.