Ballots to ask whether Ill. pols should hold multiple offices

Published: Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 12:52 p.m. CDT

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Should elected officials in Illinois continue to be allowed to hold more than one public office at the same time?

Your opinion matters, but it’s not legally binding.

McHenry County voters Nov. 6 will weigh in through an advisory referendum. It is one of three countywide ballot questions that will be put to county voters.

A complicated mix of laws and legal precedents govern which Illinois elected offices can be held simultaneously, and which ones cannot. The following is a guide to those rules, and how they factor into why you’re being asked this question.

How did this get on the ballot?

Wonder Lake resident Bob Anderson, a local tax fighter and longtime advocate for abolishing township government, asked the McHenry County Board to put the advisory question on the ballot. Anderson got the idea from DuPage County, which is asking the same question.

The McHenry County Board voted last month, 11-9, to approve putting the question before voters. It will read, “Should Illinois law permit an individual to hold two or more public elected offices simultaneously?”

In short, a “yes” vote means you favor keeping the status quo; a “no” vote means you favor limiting people to holding only one elected office at a time.

Why is this advisory?

Residents in Illinois do not have the power to propose or change state laws at the ballot box, such as voters in California and some other states do. Some politicians, such as local state Rep. Jack Franks and Gov. Pat Quinn, support amending the Illinois Constitution to give voters that ability.

Why is DuPage County asking this?

The mayors of Elmhurst and Burr Ridge, who are running for DuPage County Board, had indicated they wanted to stay on as mayors if elected to the board. The board put the referendum on the ballot at the behest of Chairman Dan Cronin, who said a board seat requires “undivided focus and commitment.”

Elmhurst Mayor Pete DiCianni has since said he will resign his municipal office if elected to the county board, but Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso still intends to hold both offices.

Why is this issue important?

Cronin brings up the point that holding multiple offices can diminish elected officials’ responsibilities to fully represent the voters and taxpayers who elected them.

To opponents such as Anderson, holding multiple offices is a way for elected officials to double-dip at the public trough of government salaries, benefits and pensions, issues on the minds of voters as state and local governments face significant budget shortfalls.

How many offices can people hold at the same time?

There is no statutory limit, but in 2011 the courts ruled a Harvey man who held four elected offices – alderman, park board, library board and school board – held three too many. To date, he still serves on all but the school board.

What are the limits on holding dual offices?

A number of state laws, court cases and attorneys general opinions dictate which offices cannot be simultaneously held.

Generally, offices are deemed incompatible when the holder of one cannot fully and faithfully perform all of the duties required of the other. Many of these scenarios include conflict of duty and conflict of interest – for example, if one of the responsibilities of Office A is setting the budget of Office B. Also, the law deems offices incompatible if the governments have any sort of contractual relationship.

As another general rule, the number of legal restrictions on holding multiple offices decreases with a county’s population, the logic being it is harder to find enough civic-minded people to fill them.

What happens to officials who get elected to incompatible offices?

That depends. Under the law, an elected official who gets elected to a second incompatible seat automatically must resign the first, and it is the duty of the original board to declare a vacancy and find a replacement.

But there is no mechanism by which to automatically boot the official from the first office. Either the state or an individual with legal standing can sue to have the person removed.

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