Normal electoral board plans to issue written order Tuesday on petition and related challenges
A movement to change Normal's town council from one that is elected on an at-large basis to one that is district-based started with petitions, but could now end in court.
David Shestokas, a lesser-known former GOP candidate for Illinois attorney general and the legal counsel for some petition supporters, told reporters if town officials don't accept his legal arguments, he and his clients will head to court in an effort to get the contested referendum question on the ballot.
"We're quite right on the law and we will be in appellate court as quickly as we'd have to be if — if the board chooses to not follow the law," Shestokas said.
The comments came after Shestokas and Patrick Dullard, a Normal resident who filed a written objection to the petition effort, gave statements during a hearing Monday afternoon in the town council chambers.
The hearing was part of a multi-step review process triggered by Dullard's objection to the filing. The electoral board convened Monday included town clerk Angie Huonker, town council member Kevin McCarthy, and mayor Chris Koos. They were joined by town attorney Brian Day.
Dullard reiterated the main points of his objection, telling board members one of his concerns was the number of people who are not Normal residents that circulated petitions aimed at changing the town's government.
"This is a significant public policy issue that outsiders are acting outside of the norm and coming into our community and trying to change the form of government," he said. "Hudson doesn't have districts — they're at-large. Ellsworth doesn't have districts — they're at-large. Why should people from there suggest to us that we should have districts?"
Dullard also said he was concerned that a number of signatures collected during the petition process were invalid, but in the written objection he filed earlier this month, no specific signatories were detailed as the ones of concern.
Shestokas, then, argued Monday that because no specific people or signatures were named, Dullard's and the town's review of the records was invalid.
Koos said the board would take the information from both on advisement — meaning the panel will consider it in the review.
Dullard also objected to the initial petition question being raised within Normal at all. The question atop each petition reads: "Shall the Town be divided into six districts, with one trustee elected from each district?"
"The Illinois General Assembly gave the right to petition for referendums for city wards or village districts, but the legislature provided no such express authority to towns, such as Normal," he said.
Shestokas told the board his interpretation of the state statute that defines villages, cities and incorporated towns indicates Normal is "actually a village."
In a brief filed with town officials before an Aug. 26 deadline, Shestokas claimed the Illinois Supreme Court has "since at least 1877" considered the wording of towns and villages as interchangeable, or the equivalent of each other. He claimed that because Normal does not have an elected treasurer or an assessor, among other positions, the municipality is technically a village under state law and, if it claims to be an incorporated town, which he said would have to have those positions, has been "operating illegally since 1985."
Monday's hearing ended after a jumbled discussion on when to reconvene a final meeting; Dullard is leaving town later this week and Koos said he also had out-of-town arrangements in Washington, D.C. that made reconvening next week impossible.
Shestokas, who is based near Chicago in Orland Park, said he needed accommodation for the drive down following a court appearance on Tuesday; Koos recessed Monday's hearing after setting the next meeting date for 7 p.m. Tuesday.
During that meeting, the electoral board is expected to issue a written ruling on the objection to the referendum question and the related opposition to that objection.
Although an array of people on the political spectrum gathered signatures for these petitions, including Krystle Able, a Democrat whose appointment to the McLean County Board was just narrowly rejected, Steve Suess, the former chair of the state's Libertarian party, Jim Fisher, a former Republican candidate for the 91st district and Hudson resident, and Normal Town Council member Stan Nord, the undefined group pushing the petition's effort in large part is called "Citizens for a Better Normal" online — though it's unclear who started that group and what, exactly, it is: The group operates a fundraising page and also solicits checks for the cause to be submitted to a residential address in Normal, but is not registered as a political action committee.
Shestokas told WGLT he has not committed to working for the group on a pro bono basis and said members have told him they are using the fundraising to pay for his legal services.
"I haven't gotten anything yet," he said after Monday's hearing. "They said they're doing a GoFundMe thing for this — hopefully I get something."
"Hopefully somebody will pay for my gas," he joked.