The Arlington Heights Village Board has passed up its last chance to put a term limits referendum on the April ballot.
On Tuesday -- the deadline for a municipality to put a referendum on the ballot -- the board declined to put forth an initiative calling for term limits for municipal officials. A citizen-based referendum calling for term limits got nearly 2,700 signatures but was thrown out by the electoral board earlier this month, in part because the wording was unclear.
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Trustees said it was impossible to know what each person who signed the petition thought it meant.
"I'm very uncomfortable putting something on the ballot that voters may or may not want," said Trustee Thomas Glasgow.
"The petition was not denied on a technicality. I'm a lawyer and I can't discern what was intended from that petition."
Trustees said the resident who circulated the petitions, Bill Gnech, should have gotten legal counsel before going ahead, to make sure he didn't face these problems.
Gnech's petition called for Arlington Heights trustees and the village president to be limited to two, 4-year terms over the course of their lifetimes.
Although it had enough signatures for the ballot, the village electoral board upheld a challenge, saying it was not worded as a question and that the exact intentions were not clear. Gnech did not specify when the term limits would go into effect or if someone could serve eight years apiece in several offices, or only eight years in public service altogether.
"If we put something together everyone will have a different opinion of what the intent would be," said Trustee John Scaletta.
Resident Art Ellingsen asked the village board to place its own term limits referendum on the ballot, saying it was clearly something residents want the chance to vote on.
But no board member supported it.
"I'm happy for the people to decide this issue, but ultimately (the referendum) needs to come from the people," said Trustee Thomas Hayes. Hayes is one of three candidates for village president in April, when Arlene Mulder retires.
Hayes has said he is not in favor of term limits, while the two other village president candidates, Mark Hellner and Ron Drake, both signed Gnech's petition.
"I don't see how we can interpret what Mr. Gnech meant and what the people who signed it meant to accomplish," Hayes said.
Gnech's petition read: "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."
Gnech said he was under the impression that the electoral 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.
Gnech has said he will bring the issue back for another try. His next opportunity will be on the primary election ballot in spring 2014.