DuPage County mayors go to court to stop merger talks
Three DuPage County mayors filed objections Monday in DuPage circuit court to try to prevent referendum questions from appearing on the April 4 ballot that would ask voters if their communities should merge with Naperville.
The mayors of Lisle, Warrenville and Woodridge said they filed the objections on the grounds that the petitions seeking the referendum questions don't contain enough signatures and that many of the signatures they do contain don't match addresses in their communities.
Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said his community did not file an objection because none of the signatures were collected there.
But Lisle Mayor Joe Broda, Warrenville Mayor David Brummel and Woodridge Mayor Gina Cunningham-Picek said they're all working together against what they termed an unidentified threat against the independence of their communities.
"This petition has a lot of our residents up in arms," Broda said during a morning press briefing. "How can the law let this happen?"
The petitions filed last week seek to place referendum questions on the ballot to ask voters a basic yes-or-no question. In Lisle, for example, it would ask, "Shall the Village of Lisle be annexed into the City of Naperville."
The court has until Jan. 26 to determine whether the questions will appear.
To get a referendum question on the ballot, state law requires the number of signatures collected match at least 10 percent of the voters in the previous election. That means 182 signatures are required in Lisle, 178 in Warrenville and 235 in Woodridge.
Mayors said there were 219 signatures filed from Lisle, 81 filed from Warrenville and 50 from Woodridge.
While Lisle's number appears to meet the threshold, Broda said many of the signatures appear invalid, even potentially fraudulent. For example, one page containing the same list of 15 signatures was copied and submitted three times, as if it was three distinct pages.
Cunningham-Picek said mayors also are concerned the people circulating petitions, many of whom were from Chicago, were simply asking residents "would you like to save on your taxes" and not mentioning the true purpose of the document.
"I don't think in any way it reflects our residents," she said about the push to combine the communities.
If the four towns became one, its borders would stretch from slightly north of I-88 south to past 111th street and from Lemont Road west to past Route 59. Its combined population would be 216,751, ahead of Aurora's 200,661 as the state's second-largest city. The three smaller communities would add a total of 69,951 to Naperville's 147,100, according to July 2015 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Mayors and other officials in all four towns have said the likelihood of such a merger is extremely remote.
"We have no interest in this proposal," said Brummel, who filed his petition Monday on behalf of himself and 32 residents. "We've never had any indication that anyone wanted to be anything else but Warrenville."
Officials say any such consolidation effort would be costly, complicated and could have far-reaching implications on other taxing bodies and the way services are delivered. They say the municipalities stand to gain nothing by merging because they already share resources and provide mutual aid during emergencies.
Already, Woodridge and Lisle officials say the work of filing the objection will add to their next monthly bill for legal fees, although neither community knew by how much. Warrenville City Administrator John Coakley said the filing will not cost the city anything over its usual legal bill, which is a flat fee, and Chirico said Naperville so far has incurred no additional legal fees.
Officials still are questioning who's behind the referendum drive and their possible motivations.
"We're chasing ghosts," Broda said. "We need to know who our challengers are."
No one has yet come forward to publicly speak in favor of the proposals and the Chicago attorney, Frank Avila, who represents the petitioners has declined to give any background information.
Avila could not be reached for comment Monday and has not responded to recent phone and email messages.
The fact the petitioners are remaining anonymous makes it all seem like "a political stunt," Chirico said.
After working to prevent the consolidation question from appearing, Chirico said he intends to work with state legislators to change the law governing ballot question placement. The law doesn't require any signatures from the community that would accept annexed residents, which could explain why circulators didn't gather any from Naperville.
"To me, that's flawed," Chirico said.
Despite its unknown origins, Brummel said the petition has stirred up the four communities and tested resident loyalty.
"We are unique," Broda said about the four communities. "We want to stay that way."
If Lisle, Warrenville and Woodridge all were annexed to Naperville - as is proposed on a potential ballot question facing a legal challenge - where would the new community's borders be? Here's a look at the basic outline of each community involved in merger talks started by an unidentified petitioner.
Naperville: Population 147,100
Northern borders: Ferry Road, I-88, Warrenville Road and Herrick Lake/Danada forest preserves
Eastern borders: Naper Boulevard, College Road, Greene Valley Forest Preserve
Southern borders: DuPage River, Rosinweed Lane (south of 111th Street)
Western borders: Normantown Road, Route 59, Canadian National's Elgin, Joliet and Eastern railroad
Lisle: Population 22,964
Northern borders: Danada Forest Preserve, Morton Arboretum,
Eastern borders: I-355, Walnut Avenue, Route 53, Seven Bridges Golf Club
Southern borders: Maple Avenue, Seven Bridges Golf Club, Egermann Woods Forest Preserve (north of Hobson Road)
Western borders: Naper Boulevard/Naperville Road
Warrenville: Population 13,317
Northern borders: Willow Lane, Mack Road, Blackwell Forest Preserve, Butterfield Road
Eastern borders: Herrick Road, Mill Street
Southern borders: Warrenville Road, Conestoga Road (south of Diehl Road), Ferry Road
Western borders: Raymond Drive, Talbot Avenue (west of Route 59)
Woodridge: Population 69,651
Northern borders: 59th Street, 61st Street
Eastern borders: Janes Avenue, Lemont Road, Woodward Avenue
Southern borders: Bluff Road, Black Partridge Woods Forest Preserve
Western borders: Joliet Road, Woodward Avenue, Route 53, Seven Bridges Golf Club
Source: U.S. Census Bureau July 2015 estimates