By Bob Uphues
For the first time in its roughly 90-year history, the Riverside Community Caucus will not interview or endorse candidates for the 2019 Consolidated Election, where voters will select three new village trustees.
At a meeting on Oct. 3, members of the caucus decided to hit the pause button in order to sort out how to reconcile $17,275 in fines levied against the Riverside Community Caucus political committee by the Illinois State Board of Elections, which terminated the committee in July for failing to file quarterly campaign disclosure reports or filing them late.
Jill Mateo, vice chair of the Riverside Community Caucus board and the only board officer in place at the moment, said the organization has hired an election attorney to help settle matters related to the fines.
"We are all committed to the mission of the Caucus," said Mateo, who is the wife of Riverside Village President Ben Sells, who was interviewed and endorsed by the Caucus in his runs for trustee in 2007 and 2011 and for village president in 2013.
"We wanted to have these issues straightened out," Mateo added. "We literally don't know what's going to happen."
It remains unclear how the Caucus will pay the fines levied by the state. The Riverside Community Caucus political committee reported a cash balance of about $3,200 in its most recent filing.
John Mathews, the former chairman of the Caucus, resigned from the caucus board and from the organization in an email sent out in the wake of a Landmark report on Sept. 19 about the organization's predicament with the board of elections.
Mateo was elected vice chair in June. Two other board positions remained vacant.
Mathews had opposed the caucus raising and spending money on political campaigns. In an interview in September, Mathews said, "I don't believe the Caucus is a political committee. It doesn't operate as a political committee."
The organization hadn't collected any money since 2014, and it last spent funds – about $650 -- in 2015. Mathews also let the organization's website and P.O. box lapse in addition to failing to file quarterly reports with the state board of elections.
Because the committee was essentially dormant, Mathews said he figured the state board of elections would simply "roll up" the committee. But the committee still carried a cash balance and the organization was responsible for submitting campaign disclosure reports whether or not it raised or spent funds.
In July the state board informed Mathews that the committee was terminated and of the fines.
"I take complete and utter responsibility for this," said Mathews, who between Sept. 24 and Oct. 2 filed seven quarterly reports for 2017 and 2018 with the state board of elections.
Riverside Trustee Joseph Ballerine said it was Mathews who coaxed him into being interviewed by the Caucus for the 2011 election after Ballerine had been passed over by the Caucus in the 1990s and was then defeated by Caucus candidates when he ran independently.
"John's goal was to turn this into a true citizens' group," Ballerine said. "John talked me back into it [in the fall of 2010]. I think it's a great organization and I think they'll come back stronger."
The Riverside Community Caucus remains active as an organization, though its numbers are small. It includes about 20 active members, said Mateo, and about 60 members total. Membership in the Caucus is open to all Riverside residents, though it only actively operates for a few months every two years, prior to village elections, soliciting, interviewing and endorsing candidates for village president and trustee.
Endorsed candidates can choose to run as a slate or on their own. Most choose to run together as a slate, taking advantage of Caucus volunteers, who help collect signatures and assist with paperwork.
The last time Riverside had a contested election for president and trustee was in 2009.
"Our commitment to non-partisan local government has served us well," Mateo said. "Going forward it's unclear how we are going to be organized."
Two of the most important efforts for the Caucus, said Mateo, are to find new leadership and attract more residents to become members.
"How do we make it a bigger tent?" Mateo said. "That is going to be job number one."
Mateo said the Caucus would also like to become more visible throughout the year and not just pop up at election time, which in the past has brought criticism that the organization operates behind closed doors.
"We want to be seen more often," Mateo said.
This story has been changed to clarify that Jill Mateo was elected vice chair of the Caucus earlier this year, not simply "named."