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posted: 4/5/2012 5:00 AM

Your chance to scrutinize townships

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Anyone who's been to a school board or city council meeting knows the drill: People in the audience get to comment on an issue, then the board votes.

It's not often that the average citizen gets a vote. That's one reason to mark next Tuesday on your calendar. Most suburban townships have annual meetings scheduled that evening. In a throwback to earlier times -- and one of the most direct ways of participating in government -- registered voters in the audience get to vote on certain issues.

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Usually, no one bothers. Often, only those with ties to township employees or officials show up.

But there are signs that might be changing -- and some suburban township governments aren't being very welcoming to newly interested citizens. Townships are hot potatoes these days. Some in the state legislature seek to abolish them, prompting a lobbying group for Illinois townships to issue a study defending their usefulness. As strapped homeowners turn a closer eye toward tax expenditures, generous spending in some townships provokes their ire.

In the past year, Daily Herald investigations have found some part-time township trustees getting pension benefits, more than $1 million being spent across the suburbs on free health insurance for elected township officials, and some township highway commissioners receiving substantial salaries while maintaining only a few miles of roads.

Residents are pushing for a vote on some of those issues, and others, at the annual meetings.

A Wauconda Township man wants a vote on whether to hold an advisory referendum on the current practice of providing free health insurance to three township elected officials. A Dundee Township woman is forcing a vote Tuesday on whether a program to kill deer to test for chronic wasting disease should continue. A woman in Milton Township, based in Wheaton, is pushing for a vote to hold a referendum on eliminating the township's government or cutting its budget sharply.

Several township boards clearly would rather continue being ignored. Wauconda Township's board should be ashamed of its tactics to keep the health plan issue from the public on Tuesday. When faced with voting on adding it to the agenda, Supervisor Glenn Swanson abstained, Trustee Gary Thompson voted no and trustees John Amrich and Mary Schorr didn't come to the meeting. Trustee Sheryl Ringel voted to put the item on the agenda, but that wasn't enough. In Milton Township, the annual meeting will start promptly at 7:30 -- but residents must show up early and register in order to cast votes.

It's too late for citizens to add items to their township agendas. That required gathering petitions by a March deadline.

But it's not too late to attend, cast votes, learn about your township and ask questions at a time when this form of government faces increased scrutiny.

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