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Judge rules Normal districting effort is legally invalid; referendum won't be on the ballot

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Staff / WGLT
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WGLT

A McLean County judge on Tuesday said a petition effort aimed at changing Normal's form of government was legally invalid in a ruling that upheld a previous, similar finding by the Normal Electoral Board.

Associate Judge Scott Kording said the town's electoral board "did not err in concluding that the referendum sought by the petitioner and her colleagues is not authorized by the (Illinois) Muncipal Code," meaning it won't be on the ballot in November.

"I know this isn't what, probably, a lot of people in the community wanted to hear. It's not what I wanted to be saying as a man and a citizen," Kording said. "But I do believe it is the legally correct decision and that is all that matters in a court of law."

The issue of whether a yes-or-no question about districting Normal would be on the November ballot gathered steam earlier this summer, when petitions began circulating in Normal.

Petitioners collected signatures from residents who supported having the following question asked of voters in the general election: “Should the town be divided into six districts, with one trustee elected from each district?"

Why that question and its subsequent came up so suddenly was, and remains, unclear.

Among the prominent local figures driving the petition effort was Normal Town Council member Stan Nord, who declined to speak with media outlets other than Cities 92.9 about the matter and why it deserved support.

Nord is now listed as the vice president of Citizens for Districting Normal, a political action committee registered with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Although petitioners touted the political diversity of the signatories, the McLean County GOP has emerged as the most prominent political backer of the initiative.

Connie Beard, chair of the local Republican party, has donated $2,000 to the Citizens for Districting Normal committee; Carl Wenning, a GOP precinct committee person, is listed as the group's treasurer.

Once Normal resident Patrick Dullard filed an objection to the petitions once they were filed in August, while supporters hired former Illinois GOP attorney general candidate David Shestokas to represent them.

When the Normal Electoral Board determined the referendum was unable to be on the ballot due to Illinois law constraining districting questions to village municipalities only, Shestokas represented supporters in court for an appeal; Dullard was represented by "semi-retired" local attorney Todd Greenberg.

Central to the petitioners' argument for getting the referendum question on the ballot was that because Normal does not elect an assessor, supervisor or collector, it does not meet the state's requirements of a town, since Shestokas said those positions are required for a town to be a legally classified as such.

If Normal was legally a village, he argued, the referendum question would have to go on the ballot, since Illinois law permits that.

Normal was granted a special town charter by the state legislature in 1867.

Kording said "nothing has been cited or shown to the court that disturbs the legal conclusion" that "the Town of Normal, for the purposes of the Illinois Municipal Code is an incorporated town and remains an incorporated town at this time."

Kording added that whether there was merit to Shestokas' argument that Normal is not operating by municipal code standards via not having those elected positions, was not for him to decide in the review of the electoral board's decision.

"I've reached this conclusion, even though if I were in charge of the world I would want the outcome or the result to be different," he said. "However, judges are not to apply their own personal proclivities or preferences when interpreting the law, and I have done my darndest not to do that here."

It is unclear whether referendum supporters will take further action at this time; Shestokas, when contacted by WGLT, said in an email, “I am discussing with my clients.”

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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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