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Home Rule petition challenged

An attempt to abolish Home Rule in the city of DeKalb could be stopped before it even reaches the ballot.

DeKalb residents David B. Castle and Michael Larson filed objections Tuesday at the DeKalb Municipal Building to a petition that had been filed by a group of city residents opposed to Home Rule.

The petition asks the city to place a referendum on the April ballot asking voters whether they wish to strip the powers of Home Rule from the city of DeKalb. State law allows cities and villages with Home Rule to largely govern their own affairs.

In Illinois, cities with a population greater than 25,000 are automatically granted Home Rule powers – unless those powers are stripped from the city through a referendum passed by a majority of voters.

Last week, DeKalb resident Mac McIntyre filed a petition to do just that. About 740 registered voters had signed the petition, a number he said is sufficient to place the measure on the ballot.

Castle and Larson argue in their objection that the number of signatures collected for the proposed referendum falls far short of the actual number of signatures required to place the measure on the ballot.

To be placed on the ballot, state law requires that a referendum petition must secure signatures equal to 10 percent of the number of voters in the city.

The question raised by Tuesday’s objection is which figure is used to determine the total number of voters in the city.

McIntyre said his group based its estimate of the total number of votes cast in the last city election, a figure he said was approximately 6,020 votes. Those running for mayor this year on the DeKalb city ballot were required to get 301 signatures, or
5 percent of the total votes cast in the last city election.

So, McIntyre doubled that figure and said he believes he needed only 602 signatures on his petition to place the Home Rule question on the April ballot. With more than 700 signatures, he said the petition has more than the minimum number required.

Objectors Castle and Larson, however, argue that state law actually requires such petitions to receive 10 percent of the total number of registered voters in the city during the most recent election.

DeKalb County Clerk Sharon Holmes said at the last election, held Nov. 4, 2008, her office recorded 22,942 registered voters in the city of DeKalb.

Using that figure, McIntyre’s group would need to collect about 2,300 signatures for the petition to be valid, according to the filed objection. That means the anti-Home Rule petition fell about 1,500 signatures short.

The objectors also argued that one of the people who collected signatures for the anti-Home Rule petition was not a registered voter in the city, and was thus ineligible to collect signatures.

Larson and Castle said they are supporters of retaining Home Rule in DeKalb.

“It (Home Rule) is a valuable tool,” Castle said. “If people aren’t happy with the way city officials are using the tools, a better way of dealing with it is through elections and by putting in new officials.”

Larson agreed, noting that he believes abolishing Home Rule would gut the city’s operating budget.

They said they are not opposed to voters receiving the chance to vote on retaining Home Rule. But they believe that referendum questions should be filed properly.

“There are rules in place that need to be followed for things like this,” Larson said. “And, in this instance, they did not meet the requirements of those rules.”

McIntyre said he was not surprised that objections were filed, but added that he believes his petition is valid.

“That’s the numbers we were told to go by,” McIntyre said.

DeKalb City Clerk Donna Johnson said her office did not pass any information to McIntyre or anyone associated with him regarding the number of signatures his petition would need, nor did McIntyre or anyone associated with him obtain petition paperwork from her office to be circulated.

“Nobody at City Hall would have told him that,” Johnson said.

A hearing regarding the objection is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday in council chambers at the DeKalb Municipal Building, 200 S. Fourth St.

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