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updated: 1/14/2013 11:39 PM

Term limits referendum thrown off Arlington Heights ballot

Supporters say they won't give up fight

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Arlington Heights residents won't have the chance to vote on term limits for elected officials in April after a petition to place the issue on the upcoming ballot was thrown out Monday.

But proponents of the issue vowed to bring the question back at a future election.

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The village's electoral board ruled unanimously Monday morning in favor of three objections to resident Bill Gnech's petition asking for a binding referendum that would limit village trustees and the village president to two 4-year terms over their lifetime.

Resident Thomas Krausmann filed the objections citing several problems the petition, including its failure to state a question and that it did not specify when the term limits would go into effect, or if they would apply to current trustees.

Gnech's petition, which had more than 2,700 signatures, was worded: "We the residents of Arlington Heights, Illinois in the County of Cook, require the Village of Arlington Heights, Illinois to put a (2) four-year term limit (8-year lifetime) binding referendum on the ballot for Village President and Village Trustee on the April 9, 2013 consolidated general election. I am a legal resident of Arlington Heights and a registered voter."

"It's very confusing to look at, if I were to walk into the voting booth and see it for the first time I wouldn't understand," Krausmann said during Monday's electoral board hearing. He added that he was generally against the idea of term limits and believes elections serve as the best way to have turnover for officials.

Gnech said he called the village and the state Board of Elections for advice but wasn't told the exact way to set up such a petition.

"I'm not a lawyer, I'm just a citizen. I basically put this petition together with no legal help. I just wanted to get it on the ballot," he said. "I'm sorry I made a mistake for the residents, but I tried."

Assistant Village Attorney Robin Ward said officials gave Gnech all the information they could legally give him.

Gnech said he was under the impression that the election board, the village board or the village clerk would be able to change the wording and formulate a question for the ballot based on the substance of his petition.

"I signed the petition, and I understood it totally, and so did everyone else who signed it," said resident Jim Elgas, who spoke at the hearing. "You can shut it down on a technicality, but you know what the people want."

The electoral board is made up of Village President Arlene Mulder, Clerk Becky Hume and Trustee Thomas Hayes, who is the village's longest serving trustee.

Resident Art Ellingsen questioned Hayes' objectivity since he is a candidate for office in April -- part of a three-way race to replace Mulder as village president -- but Village Attorney Jack Siegel said that it was allowable under state statute.

Hayes admitted he was concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest, but said he would consider the petition objectively and that any other trustees would also have the same conflict because term limits could affect them as well.

"This is an important question for the future of our village and how we're going to be governed. I have no problem with it going to the people," Hayes said, but added that Gnech's petition had too many unanswered questions.

Gnech said term limits will be back in Arlington Heights, though, and several residents at the hearing said they will support it next time as well. The next opportunity for a referendum would be during the primary election in spring 2014.

"As long as I'm breathing I'll keep trying to do this," he said.

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