By Bob Uphues
A majority of sitting Riverside trustees said Feb. 7 that they support placing a referendum on an upcoming ballot that asks voters whether they want term limits for future elected village government officials. And at least one trustee supports the present board passing a resolution stating that goal, even though future boards would not be bound by it.
Exactly what the limit would be hasn't been fleshed out and the present board would have no role in drafting a referendum question. It's too late to place a question on the April 2 ballot and the next local election won't take place until the presidential primary in March 2020.
The issue seemingly has surfaced now in reaction to the dissolution of the Riverside Community Caucus, an organization that until late last year had for nearly a century recruited, interviewed and endorsed candidates for village president and trustee.
After failing to file financial reports with the state board of elections in a timely fashion for about two years, the caucus faced fines it could not pay and its officials decided to dissolve the political committee.
As a result, the caucus did not interview or endorse candidates for the upcoming trustee election on April 2. The three candidates who filed nominating petitions – Cristin Evans, Alex Gallegos and Edward Hannon – are running unopposed.
"For me it's because we don't know what's going to happen with the caucus and I think the caucus has served the village very well … but we don't if there is going to be a caucus going forward," said Trustee Michael Sedivy, who also said he supported term limits as a rule.
The caucus' bylaws included limits on terms and candidates it has endorsed have honored that limit. The last time anyone served more than two terms in one office in Riverside was when Edward Meksto served as village president for three terms, from 1977-89.
"I don't see any reason why we should create a void that could otherwise introduce political parties, partisanship, one-issue candidates – things like that – and that's another strong reason why I kind of support this," Sedivy said.
Trustee Wendell Jisa, who supports the introduction of term limits, says he thinks such a law would get more people involved in local politics.
"I just think that it will revitalize the town," Jisa said. "I think the idea of having the same trustee sitting here for 30 years is terrifying to me."
Trustee Elizabeth Peters responded that while she was open to talking about term limits, she did not think it would attract more candidates to run for office.
"I don't think limiting terms of the current boards are going to improve the number of people," Peters said. "If you have people who are interested in running, that's great and they should run. … I'm not seeing people running to the ballot boxes to get on the board right now."
Riverside has not had a problem with trustees and presidents serving long periods of time, particularly recently.
Of the 15 trustees elected since 2009, seven have served just one term and one, Ben Sells, served one-and-a-half terms as a trustee before running for president. Riverside's last contested election was in 2009, when a slate of candidates not endorsed by the caucus won the president's chair and all three trustees seats. None ran for a second term.
Prior to 2009, the last contested election in Riverside was in 2003.
While the caucus has helped ensure limits on terms due to its bylaws, the caucus was criticized, historically, for wielding too much influence and being opaque in how it determined who to endorse.
Sedivy acknowledged as much in also worrying the loss of the caucus could create a void.
"There's a view that it's an old-boys network here, and that you need to know someone to get on the board, and how that happens is a mystery," Sedivy said, "and we need to do a better job of communicating that."
Trustee Doug Pollock, who is in the midst of his second term, argued against setting term limits, saying not only that he'd like the choice to run again, just like anyone else in the village, but that people right now don't serve long enough on the Riverside's village board.
"We have a turnover problem in my opinion: It's too much turnover," Pollock said.
Pollock, who previously had served on the Riverside Community Caucus nominating committee, said finding candidates was not an easy task.
"Every time it's been a struggle to find people willing to run," Pollock said. "Everybody's interested in Riverside village government and everybody wants to serve. The question is, frankly if you have a full-time job or a young family, it is very difficult to find the time to serve on a board.
"If you have term limits, you're eventually going to get to the point where we can't find enough people to run or we have a board that's completely inexperienced."
Trustee Joseph Ballerine said he'd favor a resolution making the present board's intentions known regarding a future referendum on term limits. If a future board disagrees, Ballerine said, those trustees can reverse the resolution.
Village President Ben Sells said that if the board wanted to embark on a proposal to change Riverside's form of government, he would ask the village attorney to research exactly what it would take and how term limits might be applied.
"There probably is not a bigger question for us to entertain than that," said Sells, who indicated that the topic might be good for inclusion at his next town hall meeting in May.
"This is a subject we need to hear from our residents on," Sells said.
Sells said he believed a future board should decide whether it wants to move ahead with a referendum and not the present board, which has just a few weeks remaining in office.
""What I don't think would be appropriate would be to shove this through in the next two months before the new trustees have an opportunity to be sworn in," Sells said.