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updated: 1/31/2011 6:43 PM

Term limits, districts up for debate in Naperville

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Naperville voters will decide next month whether the city is better served by at-large councilmen or ward aldermen and how long they'll be able to serve.

The Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation played host Tuesday to a forum panel featuring Councilmen Jim Boyajian and Doug Krause; Jane Barnes from the League of Women Voters; and Bill Eagan from the Naperville Voter Education League, to help voters decide where they stand on two of the three referendum questions they'll face on Nov. 2.

The first question asks if voters want to limit the number of consecutive terms that one person may serve as councilman to three consecutive full terms and to limit the number of consecutive terms that one person may serve as mayor to three consecutive full terms, beginning with the election in April, 2011.

Voters also will vote on whether the city should be divided into five compact and contiguous geographic districts with approximately equal population; the mayor and three councilmen will be elected at large while the remaining five councilmen will be elected from each of the five districts. Currently, there are no districts in Naperville and the mayor and all eight councilmen are elected at large.

Boyajian advocated in favor of both term limits and districting while Krause and Barnes spoke against both.

"I am in favor of term limits. In my mind it is probably one of the largest issues that has come in our country," Boyajian said. "It has been my opinion for some time that one of the issues that plagues government is the fact that no sooner is someone elected, and in some cases they start running for election again. I've often wondered what would happen is people used what simply was their best knowledge to make the best decisions without having to worry about whether or not it was going to affect them at the ballot box."

Krause, however, said every election is a referendum on whether elected officials should stay in office.

"Being that you're running, you have a record of hundreds of votes so people can decide whether they want you or not," he said. "Someone who is not an elected official and running for office can say whatever they want and there is nothing to back up whether they're able to do the job."

Barnes agreed, saying the League of Women Voters opposes term limits for all levels of government so as not to limit the choices available to voters.

As for dividing the city into wards or districts, Krause said he's afraid residents would be limited in their list of folks they could contact to get things done. He also raised his fear of gerrymandering when drawing district lines.

"Right now you can call any of the nine council members if you have a question or concern, whereas if you go to districts, you have one person who's in that district and they have to placate to those 30,000 people," Krause said. "The bottom line is I don't think those 30,000 people can agree on one thing."

The league also opposes the drawing of districts. Barnes said the organization's belief is that a system where all council members answer to all voters has the best chance of being a responsive and effective system.

Boyajian, however, said he does not have a preference in regards to districts but believes some residents would find comfort in knowing that they had "their own person" to call upon.

"As much as we try to be available to people and say please call us, to some people there's nothing like having their person," Boyajian said. "I think we're going to find out if that's important enough and if they want to see a change."

The third referendum, an advisory question, was not discussed Thursday but voters will be asked if the state should "immediately pass meaningful police and fire pension reform that will reduce the future funding obligation on local taxpayers now that the General Assembly and Governor have reformed the pension systems for all other public employees."