I've long held that the suburbs need a benevolent dictator or perhaps an elected king.
I say that in jest, of course, but it's no laughing matter how many units of government we have in Illinois. One thing this state is not lacking is government; a report says we have 6,968 entities, tops in the nation. blowing away second-place Pennsylvania by more than 2,000 governments.
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In DuPage County alone, there are more than 400 governments, including municipal, school, park, library and fire boards. County board Chairman Dan Cronin has made it his mission to see if some consolidation might be possible to, you know, give the taxpayers a break. The effort is still in the early stages, but one thing seems clear: Effecting any change is going to be a big, big hassle. Not only do those who run local government seem resistant to having their domains dismantled, the law is not written in a way to encourage such action -- even if all parties are in agreement that a particular agency could be disbanded. In fact, Cronin realized before he got too far on his mission that he'd need the support of the state legislature. And, he's already had to assure township leaders -- whose governments sometimes are criticized as archaic and duplicative -- he's not gunning for their demise. His modest, more immediate goal is to take a hard look at the so-called "paper" fire districts that exist only to levy taxes.
Against that backdrop, the 2013 election season began a few weeks ago with the required filing of candidates seeking municipal office in some, but far from all, suburbs. Filing was required generally in bigger towns such as Aurora, Elgin, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Palatine, Schaumburg, Waukegan and Wheaton. Due to some arcane wisdom, the early filing is done to determine if a primary election is needed to winnow the field of candidates before the April local election, which easily boasts the poorest turnout rate.
In Wheaton, there was not sufficient interest in three city wards to challenge the incumbents, who will run unopposed in April. But in a north side district, five candidates put their hats in the ring. Great to see such civic involvement, but it also prompts a February primary to narrow the field of five candidates to four. Have I mentioned a Daily Herald editorial has criticized such silliness?
Speaking of silliness, did you know that until very recently a quirk in the law would have called for candidates in virtually all other offices to file for the April election between Dec. 17 and 24? That's right, until Springfield legislators came to their senses, the last day to formally declare for local office would have been Christmas Eve, forcing the unplanned opening of scores of city, school, park and library buildings. The deadline has been moved to Dec. 26.
So, we're in the process right now of determining the number of seats that are up for election so we can start running down the candidates to fill out our questionnaires, come in for endorsement interviews and such. It's a daunting task because aspiring candidates are required to give their names, phone numbers and addresses when they file, not email addresses, which obviously is the most efficient way for us to contact them. So we spend a lot of time cajoling local clerks to ask the candidates to provide that info. Chasing down all of the candidates is a daunting task. Again, in DuPage County alone, there are 614 seats up for grabs in April. We also know that if things run true to form, about half those races will be uncontested; that's less work for us, but it's less of a choice for the electorate.
Either way, our mission is clear: Find those candidates, find out what we can about them and pass that info along to you.