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Court ruling affects DeKalb City Council's vote discussion

DeKALB – A court decision in a nearby town has DeKalb officials considering how City Council members vote on measures and pondering whether rules need to be changed.

“Our goal is to ensure that everyone, both on the council and in the public, understands what the rules applicable to your votes are, and when you vote there aren’t surprises,” City Attorney Dean Frieders told City Council members.

He addressed the aldermen and Mayor John Rey on the issue during the Committee of the Whole meeting Monday, held before the council’s regular meeting.

Frieders, along with City Clerk Jennifer Jeep Johnson and City Manager Anne Marie Gaura told aldermen in a memo about the the December 2015 opinion from the Illinois 2nd District Appellate Court regarding the case of a group of residents who sued their town of Crystal Lake.

During a City Council meeting there, aldermen voted on the town’s 2013 tax levy. Only four of six aldermen were present at the meeting, along with the mayor. The tax levy passed on a vote of 3-1, with the mayor not voting on the measure.

The residents sued and won on a lower court decision, and the city was to refund the tax money collected as a result of the vote. But the city won on appeal, with the appellate court ruling that with five elected officials at the meeting, there was a quorum.

The fact that, as is DeKalb, the city of Crystal Lake is home-rule. That came into play in the appellate court’s decision.

“As the total number of City Council members is seven, that body may transact official business at any meeting where at least four members are present. On December 17, 2013, five members were present, and thus there was a quorum,” read part of the appellate opinion.

Frieders said city leaders raised this issue with DeKalb’s aldermen and mayor because there are similarities between the City Council here and the one in Crystal Lake. Frieders explained that, although no situation has arisen in the immediate past, it would be beneficial for DeKalb’s elected leaders to consider a plan just in case.

“This is not a complex legal issue, but an important policy issue,” Frieders said.

DeKalb’s council is made up of seven aldermen chosen by ward and a mayor. Aldermen seemed interested Monday in establishing a rule that would call for at least four aldermen to be in favor of a measure before it could pass.

There was no action to be taken on the issue Monday. It was listed on the agenda as a discussion item. But the mayor said it is not a dead or moot idea.

“It will certainly come back as a proposal,” Rey said. “I need to entertain discussion with individual council members to determine individual preferences.”

But it raised more questions than it provided clarity among aldermen.

“We’re kind of in one those conundrums,” 3rd Ward Alderman Michael Marquardt said, speaking about how, with DeKalb’s current rules, the mayor could create or break a tie.

Fourth Ward Alderman Bob Snow said the City Council would need more time to think about a rules change, and discouraged making any immediate decisions.