Voters will decide next week whether Rutland-Dundee Fire Protection District trustees should be elected rather than appointed to their posts.
The binding referendum question was placed on the ballot by former Chief Rollyn Anderson, who said he wants residents to have a say in determining who sits on the three-member board. Trustees are appointed by Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, who reviews the candidates, seeks input from local county board members and makes a recommendation to the full county board, according to the fire district.
Anderson, who served 12 years on the fire board, said he believes the appointment process gives county officials the opportunity to choose their friends rather than applicants with the most experience. He and William Carbone, a longtime member of the fire district, were both up for reappointment when they were replaced last year by Dan Kilian and Scott Prusko.
"I didn't do it on the basis that these people weren't qualified," Anderson said. "I just felt that since they no longer were taking people who were the best qualified, then let's let the public pick instead of having the good-ol'-boy system."
Board President Don Rage, however, said Anderson's proposal could have unintended effects. Political involvement is often limited in small communities, he said, which could result in open board seats or uncontested races.
"If that happens, you could get anybody on the fire board," Rage said. The current process allows the county to vet the candidates before they're appointed to represent the district, he said.
Additionally, Rage fears the turnover from a potential election will halt consolidation efforts and other progress made recently by the fire district.
In the last several months, he said, Rutland-Dundee has been working with three area fire entities to share resources, standardize equipment, combine training programs and unify procedures when responding to calls.
Rage, appointed to the board in early 2016, said the district was previously uninterested in collaborating with Carpentersville, East Dundee and West Dundee. Rutland-Dundee was the only entity that did not participate in a consolidation study in 2015.
"It's looking at how to save money and yet still provide the best possible service to the residents," Rage said. "This referendum could take us a step back."
Anderson said consolidating with other departments doesn't make sense when the district is already financially strong, operationally efficient, and receiving optimal service classifications from insurance agencies, as was the case during his tenure. There was no reason not to reappoint the former board, he said.
If voters approve the proposal Tuesday, candidates will have a chance to present their views and qualifications to the public.
"I don't care whether I'm on it or not. I've put in my years of service and I've been happy to do it," Anderson said. "I want to give the public the right to elect who they want."