Schoenberg introduces bill on Evanston’s township-dissolution issue
That energy and passion some speakers are expending like Realtor Lynn Heidt in opposition to a dissolution of Township services may be a warmup. State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, on behalf of the city, has introduced legislation at the state level that would provide for a binding referendum to abolish Evanston Township government and turn over services to the city at the state level. (Bob Seidenberg\Staff Writer)
City of Evanston officials have a binding referendum proposal to abolish township government in the works should their March 20 advisory referendum question pass.
State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-9th, of Evanston introduced legislation Wednesday on behalf of the city that provides for a future referendum proposal — this one binding — that would abolish township government and turn its services over to the city, including administration of General Assistance and Evanston Township assessor tax-advisory programs.
The city is currently holding informational issues on an advisory question on the March 20 ballot, asking voters whether the city should move forward on dissolving the township.
Community activist Betty Ester questioned the timing of the proposal, which Schoenberg introduced Wednesday in Springfield.
“Why are we spending all this time and money if the state is already moving that way,” Ester asked Thursday. “I thought it interesting: After they (City Council members) huff and puff (about the vote on the advisory referendum), then they go to the state legislature and ask them to work on the bill.”
Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz noted that aldermen voted to pursue the state legislation in November, at the same time they were moving to place the advisory referendum proposal on next month’s primary ballot.
He said the bill is the mechanism local officials believe is needed to move forward on the dissolution issue.
If Evanston Township voters vote “no” on the March 20 advisory dissolution question, “we won’t move forward, and if the bill hasn’t passed, we’ll ask Senator Schoenberg not to pursue it,” Bobkiewicz said.
Even if the bill were to pass — which he said is unlikely given the issues confronting state lawmakers in the current session — council members would still have to hold a new vote on the dissolution question.
Asked about the bill today, Schoenberg said he introduced the legislation at the city’s request. Previously, he had sought, also at the city’s request, sought a legal opinion from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office on the legality of a binding referendum on the township issue that would be put before Evanston residents only and not open the question to all Cook County voters.
A ‘steep climb’
“If the Evanston City Council has a request, I’m going to do my best to make it happen,” he said.
Either way, he warned the legislation introduced Wednesday faces “a steep climb.”
“I do believe the legislation will encounter significant opposition from Township Officials of Illinois who, based on past experience,” he said, “are very capable of mobilizing township office holders from around Illinois’s 102 counties to stop what they view as “the camel’s nose under the tent.”
Even under the most optimistic “Cubs-go-to-the-World Series” scenario, the legislation would not make it to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk for his signature until well after the March 20 advisory referendum, he said.
The bill is specifically written to address only Evanston’s situation in amending township code. It lays out what services the city would assume under the change.
The advisory question before the voters on March 20 asks: “Should the Evanston Town Board continue to pursue the issue of dissolving Evanston Township?”
Language in bill
Language in the bill introduced by Schoenberg asks: “Shall the township organization be continued in Evanston Township? The votes shall be recorded as ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”
Should the question pass, the bill proposes that the township organization cease on Jan. 1 of the calendar year following the year in which the question was voted.
In the informational meetings held thus far by the city on the advisory proposal, Ester and others have questioned the city’s motives for seeking to dissolve that form of government. They also voiced skepticism whether the city would continue providing the same level of services for poor residents of the township.
With February marking the start of Brotherhood Month, “we’re supposed to have heart,” Ester said. “Where is the love for people who need help the most?”
City officials have said that if township government were dissolved, the city is mandated to continue providing General Assistance and Emergency Assistance to the need. They also say provisions would be made to provide tax counseling and advisory services that some residents say has proved critical, as now rendered through the Township Assessor’s Office.
To view the proposed state bill, visit http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/97/SB/PDF/09700SB2874lv.pdf