Police Merger: Clarendon Hills Board Says No to April Referendum
The referendum was requested by state Rep. Patti Bellock, who has sponsored House legislation that, if passed, would allow for the merger.
A request by the sponsor of the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills police merger legislation that the villages gauge public opinion via a referendum this spring did not get the support of Clarendon Hills trustees Monday night.
The Clarendon Hills Village Board voted down Monday night the placement of an advisory, non-binding referendum question on the April 9 municipal election ballot that would have asked voters if they’d support the merger, a move village officials say state Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale), the sponsor of House legislation that would clear the way for the merger, has supported since a meeting with the local officials over the holidays.
“In the event that the Clarendon Hills Village Board determines that it is a legally viable option, and that it is to the Village’s financial benefit to do so without adversely impacting public safety,” the proposed question would have read, “shall the Village of Clarendon Hills consolidate its Police Department with the Police Department of the Village of Hinsdale, to form a Consolidated Joint Law Enforcement Department that serves both the Village of Hinsdale and the Village of Clarendon Hills?”
Only trustee Paul Pedersen voted to place the referendum on the ballot. Allan Alongi, Paul Flood, Ed Reid, Steve Wallace and Mary Williams voted against placing the referendum that would ask residents about a project that is still being negotiated and that still needs state legislation to be passed allowing for it.
The board held another vote to place a modified referendum that would remove the qualifying language at the beginning regarding the legal viability and financial benefit, and all but Wallace voted no.
The deadline for municipalities to approve referenda for the April 9 ballot is Tuesday. The Hinsdale Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on placement of the same original question, though Hinsdale village manager Dave Cook said it is likely to be pulled from the agenda in light of Monday night's Clarendon Hills vote.
The villages of Clarendon Hills and Hinsdale are still in negotiation with the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the union that represents officers in both police departments, so exact cost savings have not been released by the villages.
And until the FOP is on board, Recklaus said, it will be difficult to pass the Bellock-sponsored state legislation that would give the two villages the power to consolidate departments if they so choose.
Alongi said that because the financial benefits and the legal status are still not known factors despite the villages original hopes to have legislation in place by the end of 2012, and because it seems Bellock’s support appears to need some bolstering, he did not support the April referendum.
“This referendum question is appropriate when we have our ducks in line, not when we’re in the middle of fighting for the ducks,” Alongi said.
Said Reid, a trustee who opposes the merger in general, “The referendum has a certain vagueness to it that the whole process has in my mind.”
Village President Tom Karaba, a strong supporter of the exploration of consolidation, said he did not support the referendum in principle, but would vote for it to accommodate Bellock’s request.
“I am totally opposed to the referendum,” the village president said. “You’re not voting on anything. You’re voting on, is it a good idea? Well of course it’s a good idea. But that doesn’t solve the problem.
“The good idea is only a good idea if there is substantial savings, if there are good, strong controls so that we don’t lose our autonomy. All those questions are not answered yet and won’t be answered necessarily when this goes to referendum.”
But shortly after, Karaba said of the referendum, “If that’s what it takes to get this done, I’ll vote for it. It’s not important enough to me to stop the process simply by a referendum question.”
Karaba’s vote, only used in tiebreak situations, was not needed Monday night.
Citizens for Clarendon Hills (C4CH) steering committee member Eric Stach, one of three unopposed village board candidates this spring, was one of several resident speakers Monday and said the group felt the qualifying language about the merger’s legality and financial benefit might inappropriately steer voters to answer a certain way.
“That language is not a neutral question; that language is not nonbiased,” Stach said.
C4CH, a group that opposed home rule in 2012, sent a message to those on its email list last month that said the group did not support the police merger because of a lack of information provided by the village and the lack of a referendum component.
Stach said members of the group’s leadership met with Bellock last fall and expressed these concerns directly to her.
Even if it did get board approval, it’s possible the referendum wouldn’t have stayed on the April ballot if discussions with the FOP scheduled this week don’t go well.
According to a Jan. 17 memo from Recklaus to trustees included in Monday’s agenda packet, officer wages and benefits have been the sticking point in the discussions with the FOP. The union is expected to meet with Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills officials on Tuesday.
The memo said, “FOP has indicated that if a settlement is not reached on wages and benefits, they will be unable to remove their opposition to the proposed legislation in Springfield.”
The village manager said Monday night that, referendum-talk aside, “It’s conceivable that we’ll discover the project is not feasible in the next couple of days.”
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