Batavia accused of conducting pro-home-rule campaign
One of the people behind the cease-home-rule referendum in Batavia has complained to the state election board that city officials are illegally trying to sway voters' opinions.
Carl Dinwiddie submitted a letter to the Illinois State Board of Elections Friday contending the city has spent public dollars to persuade voters to let it keep those powers. State law prohibits spending public money to advocate political positions.
Dinwiddie wants the state board to order the city to cease and desist its activities, and to order the city to put a "citizen representative" on the panel of a forum the city is conducting at 7 p.m. today.
The forum is to present information, officials have said, about the home-rule referendum.
"This question has very serious implications on local government funding and authority to enact local legislation," says a four-page flier sent to Batavia households last week. headlined "Please Read: Important Information About The Home Rule Referendum On The November 6, 2018 Ballot."
It goes on to say 19 percent of city revenues (other than utility charges) come from taxes tied to home-rule authority. "If the city loses these home-rule revenues, the city would need to raise real property taxes to continue funding existing services and/or discontinue some existing services," the flier states.
It also says home-rule allowed it to implement a Crime-Free Housing ordinance for multifamily buildings of six or more units. Non-home-rule towns have fewer legal abilities to regulate rental housing.
"As soon as the city presented what the losses will be if the city loses home rule, it is clear that they are advocating for the residents to vote to keep home rule," Dinwiddie's complaint states. " ... by using the words 'could impact' and 'services may be eliminated' these are opinions and conclusions, definitely not factual information."
Dinwiddie also wrote there are no private citizens on the forum panel. The panel will include the city administrator, police chief, finance director and attorney. The city also has created a page on its website regarding the referendum.
He also complained about what happened at a Sept. 17 presentation by Batavians For Responsible Government, to which he and other leaders of the referendum movement belong. Dinwiddie said that public-access television channel BATV, which receives money from the city, videotaped the beginning of the forum where Jim Tobin of Taxpayers United of America gave a presentation, but shut off the cameras and left when other people started talking about how home rule directly affects them. He also wrote that some aldermen "rudely interrupted our meeting," even after other people asked them to be quiet.
"If that isn't electioneering, what is?" he wrote.
Dinwiddie previously warned city officials at a council meeting that they were verging on electioneering. City Administrator Laura Newman has repeatedly said the city is just presenting factual information.
BATV Operations Director Jen Brens said a volunteer filmed the event and the video stops after a question-and-answer session after the presentation. "There was zero foul play," Brens said.
State law prohibits spending public dollars to promote political candidates or positions in elections.
City staff designed the fliers. It paid $5,314.90 to a contractor to print and mail them.
Election board spokesman Matthew Dietrich said Monday he could not confirm if the state has received Dinwiddie's letter, because the office is closed for the Columbus Day holiday. He also said complaints about campaign financing must be made using a department form.
Once a form is submitted, a hearing officer reviews it, hears from both sides and submits a recommendation to the board. The board would then consider it at a regular monthly meeting.
Illegal electioneering is governed by the state Election Code. Municipal spending for political purposes is also governed by the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act.