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updated: 8/29/2011 6:06 PM

Naperville residents want to reverse election result

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Some Naperville residents are starting to question the push to create city council election districts by 2015.

In what may be one big case of buyer's remorse, several council members say they are hearing from constituents who want to know how or if the city can reverse the results of the November 2010 election that requires the city to change from an at-large form of representation to a district system.

"Everyone is asking me how we undo this and I don't have an answer for them," Councilman Grant Wehrli said Monday. "Personally I'm staying Switzerland on this topic, but I'm not a lawyer."

So he found one. Late last week Wehrli put in a work request for the city's legal department asking two questions: "Can an advisory nonbinding referendum be placed on the April 2013 municipal election ballot seeking confirmation of the voters' wishes regarding districts? And how can the binding referendum regarding districts be reversed?"

During the Nov. 2 election, roughly 66 percent of Naperville voters approved dividing the city into five compact and contiguous and equally populated districts, each with its own representative to the council by the 2015 election.

Under the new system, three council members and the mayor would continue to be elected at-large. New district lines would be drawn by the city manager once every decade when census numbers are released. Four council members whose seats will expire in 2013 would only serve two-year terms if re-elected.

City Manager Doug Krieger said he expects the legal department will need "a few weeks" to do the analysis.

"I have heard, and continue to hear, a great deal of people talk about how the districts could be undone, and the majority are expressing their displeasure with the decision to go to districts," Krieger said.

Several of Wehrli's fellow councilmen said it can't hurt to get answers to those questions but are resigned to fulfilling the wish of the voters.

"I've read (Wehrli's) questions and I think that's very interesting. I thought the voters had already decided," Councilman Doug Krause said. "I've got an arm's length of people telling me they don't like it but based on what the judge said, we have to do this. The better question is whether he's wasting staff's time with his questions."

Councilman Steve Chirico said he believes a "pretty clear and definitive signal" was sent by the voters but questions whether the signal is still valid.

"If a confirmation vote is desired by citizens or councilmen, I don't think it would cause any harm in asking for that," Chirico said. "But the typical response I'm getting from the public now is 'This is a mistake.' If we were to do it again, I suspect there would be a big campaign against it based on feedback I've received."

Councilwoman Judy Brodhead said she's not surprised someone asked Wehrli's questions.

"It's true that a number of people in town have been thinking about whether the decision could be reconsidered before it goes into effect," she said. "I think a lot of people are reflecting on whether or not this is a good idea."

Some councilmen also have taken aim at the Naperville Voters Education League, the civic group responsible for getting the original referendum question on the ballot. They say had the league lived up to its name, the city wouldn't be under the gun right now to create new districts by the end of the year.

"The name is a bit of a misnomer," Brodhead said. "Some people on the league were very seriously interested in researching whether districts were a good idea for the city and others were pro-district from the get-go."

Wehrli, however, placed blame for the decision and its effects directly on the league.

"The way the (league) went about educating the residents on wards, they did a disservice to the people of Naperville," Wehrli said. "I don't believe they put any thought into the impact this would have and they provided no solutions. I put a lot of the headaches and where we are right now, squarely on the (league)."

League spokesman Bill Eagan said the league did not campaign either way. Members just wanted residents to have a say.

"Just about 66 percent of the people say they wanted districts so I think their will is pretty clear," Eagan said. "And I suggested they start working on maps last November as soon as it passed. Short of me running the project, they've got the maps and need to get to work."

Earlier this month, councilmen directed staff to draft the first version of the proposed districts by the end of the year.