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How the first ‘voter initiative’ ordinance came to be

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Village trustees in Arlington Heights established a voter initiative process for creating new ordinances — an idea now being considered in Evanston — in the early 1980s in the midst of a lot of turmoil on the political scene there.

Voter initiative proponents in Evanston cite Arlington Heights as the only community in Illinois that has such a mechanism in place.

Starting in 1978, after some residents were angered by the trustees’ decision to approve an 18-story high-rise building, the board’s legal committee started holding public hearings [registration required – see note below] on a proposed ordinance that would let residents recall elected officials and a separate ordinance to create a voter initiative process for adoption of ordinances.

In July 1980, the trustees unamously adopted a resolution to place an advisory referendum regarding the recall ordinance on the Nov. 4, 1980, general election ballot.

Nearly 82 percent of the votes cast favored that referendum, and the Village Board voted unanimously to adopt the recall ordinance on Nov. 17, 1980.

It turned out to be a good thing that the board had used the advisory referendum procedure to adopt the recall provision, because in December 1981 the 1st District state appellate court ruled that the state constitution does not allow binding referendums [registration required] on the issue of creating a recall process for local officials.

In January 1981, the trustees adopted, on a 7-1 vote, a resolution to place an advisory referendum regarding the voter initiative proposal on the April 7, 1981, election ballot, and the Village Board voted unanimously to adopt the voter initiative ordinance on April 20, 1981.

The board had already adopted, in January 1981, a related measure that provided for the board to reconsider any vote it took if opponents could gather petitions signed by at least one percent of the registered voters before the board’s next meeting.

Note: Links in this story identified with “registration required” go to the Proquest database of Chicago Tribune articles on the Evanston Public Library website. You’ll need to enter the numbers beneath the bar code on the back of your EPL library card to access those items.

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How ‘voter initiative’ plan here differs from the only other one in Illinois (12/29/19)

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