Bid to block Elk Grove term limits referendum delayed, for now
A resident's attempt to disqualify a term limits referendum for the Elk Grove Village board was dismissed on legal grounds Tuesday by a village panel, though the objection may resurface.
The three-member village electoral board -- composed of Mayor Craig Johnson, Trustee Nancy Czarnik and Village Clerk Lorrie Murphy -- said the objection was filed too early, and they do not have jurisdiction over the matter right now.
But board attorney Tom Bastian said the objector, Benjamin Lee, could come back Dec. 17 -- a day after the last day to file petitions to place a referendum on the March 17, 2020, ballot.
Lee filed his objection at the clerk's office Oct. 22, seeking to keep the term limits referendum off next year's ballot. Fellow village resident Tim Burns filed petitions for the referendum on July 8.
Lee's attorney, Pericles Abbasi, believes his client can file an objection anytime until Dec. 23 and plans to appeal the electoral board's decision in Cook County circuit court by the end of the week.
While the Elk Grove panel said the objection was filed too early, Burns' attorney, Ross Secler, believes it was filed too late. He also wants Johnson and Czarnik recused from the proceedings because they are targets of Burns' referendum.
Bastian, the board's attorney, said Secler's legal arguments on the latter point were "very good," but he advised the panel not to take up consideration of anything else.
"You're asking the board to make a substantive legal ruling," Bastian told Secler. "If we don't have jurisdiction, we don't have jurisdiction. We can't foist it upon ourselves."
If Johnson, the 22-year incumbent mayor, and Czarnik, the most senior trustee at 30 years, eventually recuse themselves, it would be up to the Cook County circuit court chief judge to assign replacements.
Lee, who his attorney describes as a concerned citizen, argues in his objection that the referendum should be invalidated due to a state law signed July 19 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The law requires municipal term limits approved anytime after Nov. 8, 2016, to be prospective, not retroactive -- meaning the clock wouldn't start ticking on terms until after limits are in place.
The ballot question proposed by a Burns would ask voters whether the mayor and village trustees should be able to serve no more than two consecutive 4-year terms. If approved next spring, it could prevent four longtime incumbents -- including Johnson -- from running again in April 2021. Secler, Burns' attorney, believes the new state law is unconstitutional, and expects it to be challenged in court.
"That law would effectively strip voters of their rights," Secler said.