The Better Government Association sponsored a town hall meeting on Feb. 15 about townships in Illinois and whether they were “relevant or redundant.” The topic was viewed from a statewide perspective, as opposed to focusing solely on Evanston Township. Several panelists, however, gave their views on the upcoming referendum on Evanston Township.
One of the three referendum questions that Evanston voters will see on their March 20 ballots is: “Should the Evanston Township Board continue to pursue the issue of dissolving Evanston Township?” The referendum is advisory, not binding.
The panelists included Larry Suffredin, 13th District Cook County Commissioner, Bob Porter, Administrative Coordinator of Township Officials of Cook County, Emily Miller, Coordinator of BGA Policy and Government Affairs, and Sam Yingling, Avon Township Supervisor.
Uncertain Process to Dissolve a Township
Ms. Miller said the Illinois Constitution provides that a township may be dissolved when approved by a referendum in each township affected. The dilemma, she said, is that the Illinois legislature has not adopted a process to dissolve an individual township. State statutes, she said, only provide a process to dissolve a township organization – or all of the townships – in an entire county.
Ms. Miller advocates that people in individual townships should have the right to decide whether or not to dissolve their township.
Whether Voters Should Decide
There are many different configurations of townships in Illinois, and different townships provide different types of services. Several panelists said each township should be looked at individually, and voters in each township should be given the right to decide whether to dissolve their township.
Commissioner Suffredin gave as an example that Evanston Township has the same borders as the City of Evanston, and they both have the same governing body – the City’s aldermen also serve as the Township’s trustees. He said Evanston Township only provides two types of services: a) general assistance, and b) assistance with property tax assessments.
In contrast, Mr. Suffredin said there are four other townships in the Cook County District that he represents. Unlike Evanston Township, these townships have borders that overlap with several municipalities, and they provide services that are different from those provided by Evanston Township.
He said each township should be looked at differently, but he thought, in a democracy, the voters should have the right to decide whether to dissolve their township in a referendum.
Mr. Yingling said, “The Township Code is archaic,” and “there are no checks and balances” because the township trustees have no “operational control” over township officials. He said he thought the services provided by townships may be provided by another government entity more efficiently. “We’re not talking about eliminating a service,” he said. “Services will be continued, just by another entity.” He said people should be enabled to decide whether to dissolve their township.
Mr. Porter offered a different view. He said townships are one of the most local forms of government and are more responsive to local concerns than county or state administrators. He said there is no need to dissolve townships. If people are dissatisfied with the officials in their township, they could throw them out of office in the next election, he said.
As to Evanston Township
Because Evanston Township’s borders are the same as the City of Evanston’s borders and because they are governed by the same people, Commissioner Suffredin thought the two services currently provided by Evanston Township could be taken over by the City. “The two functions can probably be more economically handled by the City,” he said. He estimated the cost savings would be $500,000.
Mr. Porter disputed the savings Evanston taxpayers would achieve if Evanston Township’s services were consolidated into the City. He suggested that Mr. Suffredin’s $500,000 estimate did not take into account the administrative time devoted to providing support services and some basic job skills for the roughly 100 persons receiving general assistance payments from the Township.