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League makes another run at changing Palatine council
By Kimberly Pohl | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/11/2010 12:00 AM

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Thirty years after Palatine residents voted to establish six electoral districts within the village, a civic group is making yet another push to replace individually elected councilmen with ones elected at-large.

The League of Women Voters Palatine Area has launched a petition drive to put an advisory referendum question on the ballot in hopes the village council will revert to an at-large system, allowing residents to vote for all six council members and not just the one in their district.

"We've found that voters feel disenfranchised from having influence over the whole decision-making process," League member Elizabeth Hull said. "You have more potential influence when you can contact all six (council members) rather than the one who represents you."

With the Aug. 2 deadline already passed for non-governing bodies to get a public policy referendum on the ballot, members will have to try for the consolidated local election in spring 2011.

It wouldn't be the first time voters have weighed in on the issue.

In 1980, 61 percent of Palatine residents voted in an advisory referendum - which measures opinion but doesn't require change - to establish six districts. The council did.

In 1992, 59 percent of residents in an advisory referendum voted to abandon the districts in favor of electing trustees (now called council members) on a villagewide basis. The council took no action, though.

The following spring, residents in a binding referendum voted to make village elections nonpartisan but a second question of whether to do away with districts was defeated by 423 votes.

Hull believes many people misunderstood the two-part referendum, leading to its narrow failure. Regardless, she said much has changed in the last 17 years and that the issue deserves another look.

According to a pamphlet the League is distributing, an at-large system would mean each council member is responsible to every resident and district maps wouldn't have to consistently be redrawn, which can lead to accusations of gerrymandering.

The League also argues that an at-large system could encourage more diversity and gender balance because residents would have increased access to running in more frequently held races. It's also easier and cheaper in the age of the Internet to campaign to a wider audience.

Proponents of the district system, meanwhile, say citizens might be more apt to run for office knowing they only have to campaign to one-sixth the population. It also prevents the entire council from living in one region of Palatine, and as such could promote diversity, not limit it.

The council's two most veteran officials said they'd honor the wish of the people, but believe the people have already spoken.

"(The district system) gives residents a point person to bring their concerns to the council," said Councilman Greg Solberg, first elected in 1987. "It's a way to spread out representation."

Added Councilman Jack Wagner: "I thought the residents made their feelings very clear back in 1993. There was a time when all the board members lived within a few blocks of each other. That can't happen now."