Seeking to “control the narrative” on the question of township elimination, a group of McHenry Township residents has successfully petitioned to ask voters if the township should be abolished.
The question – which asks whether the township and its road district should be dissolved as of June 21, 2020 – will appear on the March primary election ballot. If voters decide the answer to the question is “yes,” the entities’ property, assets, personnel, obligations and liabilities will be transferred to McHenry County.
John Macrito and a handful of other township residents gathered almost 1,000 signatures on petitions to put the question on the ballot.
But they don’t want to see the township go.
“Our feeling is – if we don’t do it, Bob [Anderson] will,” Macrito said. “And Bob will do it on the November election, which will have a bigger turnout because it’s a presidential election.”
Anderson is a township trustee who has been fighting to eliminate Illinois townships since the 1990s.
By law, the question cannot be asked of voters for another 46 months after March, Macrito said.
“By then, these three gentlemen should be out of office,” he said, referring to Anderson and fellow trustees Steve Verr and Mike Rakestraw.
Anderson, along with Verr, called a special meeting in August to put the elimination question on the November ballot.
The law, however, requires a board to place the referendum on the ballot of whatever election will occur next after a resolution is put forth, which would have been in March.
Trustees decided not to take action at the August meeting with the intent to postpone a decision until after the March election.
Anderson said that he had wanted the question on the November ballot so that more people would have a chance to vote on it. He said he didn’t have a strong opinion on this new development.
“They have a right [to put it on the ballot]” he said. “There is no question that I want to see it pass. We will see how it all works out.”
The special meeting was called less than a week after Gov. JB Pritzker signed House Bill 348 into law.
Under the law, voters may submit a petition of signatures – with at least 250 signatures or the signatures of 5% of the number of voters in a previous comparable election – requesting a referendum to dissolve their township.
Township boards also can vote to put forth the question. Anderson last year tried to garner support for a referendum to abolish McHenry Township’s road district, which was defeated in an overwhelming fashion with more than 68% of voters casting a “no” vote.
Macrito said he thinks the same will happen in March.
“I think the majority of people will vote no,” he said.
The question comes as Nunda and McHenry townships’ road districts are challenging the constitutionality of the law itself.
The entities filed a lawsuit in September that claims this new law violates a section of the Illinois Constitution regarding special legislation, which states that the General Assembly shall pass no special or local law when a general law is or can be made applicable.
Whether a general law is applicable will be a matter of judicial determination, according to the Constitution.
Jim Militello, McHenry Township’s attorney, who is representing the road districts in the suit, said the petition doesn’t affect the lawsuit right now but would in the future.
“The result from the election in March would determine what – if anything – results with litigation,” Militello said. “The impact comes if there is a decision to dissolve the township.”
The case will continue to move forward if voters say they want to keep the township in place. If the decision to dissolve is made, an injunction could prevent the disillusion from happening until the lawsuit is resolved, he said.
“There is nothing for us to do at this point in time,” he said. “As soon as we get a determination, the better we will be.”