Could the Buffalo Grove recall ordinance face a court challenge?

  • Deputy Village Clerk Jane Olson counts signatures on petitions presented by David Wells calling for the recall of village Trustee Lisa Stone.

    Deputy Village Clerk Jane Olson counts signatures on petitions presented by David Wells calling for the recall of village Trustee Lisa Stone. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Posted7/30/2010 12:01 AM

Since Illinois has no state law in place regarding the recall of elected officials, some local municipalities, like Buffalo Grove, have adopted their own ordinances.

Those ordinances could provide legal fodder, however, as a lack of recall history in Illinois could lead to court challenges to test the local authority to set recall guidelines.


Recall is such a new issue to the state that the Illinois Municipal League, which advises municipalities on a barrage of issues, doesn't have an official stance on the topic.

"We've never been asked," said Roger Huebner, deputy executive director for the league.

Last week, a petition with 2,096 signatures was delivered to Buffalo Grove village hall asking for a referendum on the November ballot to give voters the option of recalling Trustee Lisa Stone. Stone's enjoyed an eventful tenure since being elected to the board in 2009, often clashing with Village President Elliott Hartstein and other board members.

Huebner and other experts in municipal law couldn't find any examples of recalled officials or if local ordinances have ever been challenged in court. Buffalo Grove adopted its ordinance allowing for recall last fall September.

Jack Siegel, who serves as village attorney for Arlington Heights and Schaumburg, noted that Arlington Heights adopted its own recall ordinance more than three decades ago. A trustee had been vacationing in a state that had recall provisions and thought the village should adopt its own guidelines, Siegel said. Little discussion on the ordinance has ever taken place since then.

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"And I hope it's never used," Siegel said. "I think it's a terrible idea."

Buffalo Grove drafted its ordinance using the authority granted by home rule. But Siegel said home rule may not give the village enough power to adopt recall. The ordinance could be vulnerable because recall changes the form of government without voter input.

"It might be the subject to objection on the grounds it changes the form of government without a referendum," he said.

Municipalities can tweak the way they govern, such as adjusting the number of members who sit on various boards, Dick Simpson points out. An attorney could argue adding or subtracting trustees is similar to allowing recall, thus making the ordinance valid, said Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Across the country, 29 states allow for recall of local officials in their state laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Springfield lawmakers flirted with altering the state constitution to allow the recall of the governor, but never took action. Illinois political machines have stymied efforts to implement recall, Simpson said. He added that lawmakers have a conflict of interest; they'd have to craft the bill to make themselves vulnerable to being recalled.