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Judge rules Normal clerk not obligated to certify petitions for non-elective offices

McLean County circuit court judge Mark Fellheimer presided over an hours-long hearing on Wednesday.
Clay Jackson
The Pantagraph (Pool)
McLean County circuit court judge Mark Fellheimer presided over an hours-long hearing on Wednesday.

Three people attempting to run for nonelective offices in Normal do not have an “unequivocal right” to have their candidacy petitions certified by the town clerk — and their names placed on the April election ballot — according to a McLean County judge’s ruling.

11th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Mark Fellheimer on Wednesday dismissed legal action filed against Normal Clerk Angie Huonker, saying his interpretation of state and municipal law does not indicate she was legally obligated to approve candidate petitions for offices that were either appointed or nonexistent at the time of filing.

Normal resident andformer township clerk Amy Conklin was attempting to run for Normal clerk, an appointed position within the town’s city manager-styled government; residents Charles Sila and Robert Shoraga were trying to run for collector and supervisor, respectively, neither of which are positions within the municipality.

“The court finds here that … the petitioners did not have an unequivocal right to have their nominating petitions certified … and then secondly, the clerk did not have an unequivocal duty to certify those petitions for offices that are not in existence in the Town of Normal,” Fellheimer said from the bench.

“Having made these findings, the court finds … that it would therefore have no option but to grant the … motion to dismiss on the basis that no right exists at the present time for these officers to be elected in the Town of Normal.”

Had those petitions been approved, Conklin, Sila and Shoraga would have had their names on the April 4 ballot. Sila did not attend Wednesday’s court hearing due to illness, but his son Karl, present on his behalf, said the three aspiring candidates would discuss the possibility of quickly appealing Fellheimer’s ruling.

“Obviously we don’t like it, but I have some legal background and … I knew this was a possible final decision,” Karl Sila said. “It’s not totally unreasonable. We’ll have to talk among ourselves and see if it’s worth dealing with.”

Sila and Shoraga told WGLT in previous interviewstheir attempts to run for those offices were based on the belief that even though they don’t currently exist, they should. Shoraga said friends “in politics” had told him they believed state law indicated Normal should have a collector and a supervisor; he ran accordingly for supervisor.

Similarly, Conklin told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing that she had been prompted to run after “reading Illinois law.”

“About a year and a half ago, I was actually going to apply for town clerk and then I was wondering, ‘Why is this not elected?’,” she said. “So, I said yes to this.”

The hearing on Wednesday was several weeks in the making, following Normal’s hiring of a Chicago-based municipal law firm to review the petitions for “legal conformity” in early December, a single meeting of the Normal Electoral Board shortly after, and an initial case status hearing earlier this month.

A spokesperson for Normal said the board has been “recessed” since its initial meeting and would remain recessed "pending any further action in this case."

In a statement, Mayor Chris Koos said in a statement the town is “pleased the judge agreed with our legal team’s assessment.”

“We are glad to put this issue behind us,” the statement read. “This decision comes on the heels of the recent review of the Town’s budget, which focuses on what our community wants us to focus on: improving infrastructure, paying down and restructuring debt and enhancing the quality of life in our community.”

Karl Sila said whether or not the three candidates appeal the ruling depends on “if it’s a good use of time or money” and told reporters he was “pleased” with Tom DeVore, a former Republican state attorney general candidate and prolific filer of lawsuits against the state’s newly-enacted assault weapons ban, who took on Sila, Conklin and Shoraga’s cases. (Chicago-based Michael Kasper of Kasper and Nottage in Chicago, as well as Allen Wall and Jason Guisinger of Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins, represented Normal.)

DeVore is the second former GOP state attorney general candidate to represent Normal residents in McLean County court in recent months: David Shestokas, who lost to DeVore in the Republican primary, represented people who wanted a districting referendum question on Normal ballots in the November 2022 election.

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