BGA Public Eye: Dolton voters may get shot to recall trustees

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Dolton Mayor Riley Rogers | File photo

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Dolton voters may have the chance to recall three trustees, something that has happened only one other time in recent years in suburban Chicago politics.

The trustees — Stan Brown, Tiffany Henyard and Robert Hunt Jr. — were first elected in April 2013, as was Dolton Mayor Riley Rogers.

The political marriage has been rocky from the start, with Rogers and the trustees repeatedly clashing, though in a sign of how dysfunctional things have become the two sides can’t even agree about their disagreements.

Brown and Henyard say they’ve butted heads with Rogers over municipal government spending, personnel matters and the awarding of liquor licenses.

Rogers says it was never about liquor licenses – he claims the trustees have purposely opposed proposals and policies to try to hurt him politically.

As an example, he says the three trustees blocked the sale of the Dorchester, a money-losing senior housing complex that at the time was owned by Dolton taxpayers. Dolton has since sold the Dorchester for about $3 million, though Rogers says the village could’ve sold the property for a higher price two years ago.

“They’re working against our best interests,” he says.

Now, if Rogers has his way, voters in the working-class south suburb will be asked at the March 15 election to decide if Brown, Henyard and Hunt should keep their jobs. If one or all of them are removed it will mark only the second time in recent years that a municipal official in suburban Chicago has been recalled, observers say.

Lisa Stone, a Buffalo Grove village board member, was voted out of office in 2010 amid complaints that she was disruptive during meetings. (Stone denies that was the case.)

Brown and Henyard say they haven’t acted improperly and claim Rogers wants to oust them and Hunt only because the three oppose his policies.

“He wants complete power,” Henyard says about the mayor.

In June, the Dolton village board passed an ordinance that allowed for the recall of elected officials, if certain criteria are met. The ordinance passed by a 4-to-3 margin, with Rogers casting the tiebreaking vote.

Brown, Henyard and Hunt voted no.

Under the ordinance, if an official is to be recalled, petitions must first be signed by at least 25 percent of voters who cast a ballot in Dolton’s last mayoral election.

In April 2013, there were 3,565 votes cast for mayor, according to Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office. Under the ordinance that means Rogers and his supporters must obtain at least 891 signatures.

Rogers says he’s been passing petitions but declined to disclose how many signatures he has gathered. The deadline to file with Orr’s office is Dec. 14.

“We’re close to our goal,” Rogers says.

If he achieves it and the petitions withstand any challenges, voters at the March 15 election will be asked to decide if Brown, Henyard and Hunt should keep their jobs.

If a majority of voters say no, one or all of the trustees will be removed from the board and Rogers can appoint their successors.

Rogers says he wants that opportunity because “the village needs to move forward.”

“We feel it’s wrong and unjust,” Brown says. “We need money spent on a lot of things. We have a lot of empty houses and the roads are bad. And [Rogers] is spending money on an attorney to recall three trustees.”

Brown, Henyard and Hunt have asked a judge to repeal the ordinance on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional, according to a copy of their lawsuit, filed Sept. 24, in Cook County Circuit Court. A ruling is expected next month.

John Murphey, Dolton’s village attorney, says that as a home rule community, “Dolton has the authority to pass this kind of ordinance.” What’s more, he says it’s consistent with state and national constitutions and a municipal recall has happened once before in the home rule community of Buffalo Grove, located in Cook and Lake counties.

The purpose of a recall election is to remove an elected official before the end of his or her term. In court filings, Murphey says the political maneuver is most commonly used in local elections – as many as 29 states allow for recalls.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” says Brad Cole, executive director of the Illinois Municipal League, which is an adviser and advocate for local government but isn’t involved in the Dolton matter. “It’s usually something really extreme and people can’t wait until the next election. You don’t see that too often on the municipal level.”

This column was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at aschroedter@bettergov.org.

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