A nonpartisan group called the Skokie Alliance for Electoral Reform is pushing to reform Skokie’s electoral system in a way that will make it more like Evanston’s.
Specifically, the group is proposing three initiatives that would make elections non-partisan, stagger terms for board members and require hybrid representation, which they said would ensure better geographic representation among board members.
In response to the initiatives proposed by the group, the mayor of Skokie, George Van Dusen, shared the following response with the RoundTable, (which has been edited for spelling, grammar and style):
- If the proposals were enacted, they would balkanize Skokie into small parts but not produce the desired results. Skokie is about the size of one ward in Chicago. The proposed system would divide this small village into even smaller districts (wards?) each of which then would be competing for rare resources with each other. The Village of Skokie is only 11 square miles. The comprehensive system of distribution of municipal resources would be abandoned for a war between the wards. One only needs to look a little south of Skokie to see how that would play out.
- Under the current system, the village manager, a professional in the field of municipal government, ensures that all areas of the village receive equal treatment and consideration for municipal services. They are not divided up according to “ward power” and who is most adept at organizing ward alliances, with winning wards and losing wards. For example, Skokie’s street resurfacing is assessed and scheduled based on decisions by the professionals at the public works department who measure all streets at the same time according to the same criteria. Would anyone suggest that it’s better or more fair to allocate street resurfacing equally to each ward?
- The job being performed under the current system ensures racial and minority representation as well as equal services throughout the village. Importantly, the current board of trustees is composed of four new members of the village board out of a total of six trustees, none of whom were members of the Skokie Caucus Party prior to the election. The village clerk, an elected position, is held by a member of the Indian-American community. Each new member represents a significant and diverse community within the village, and they all have worked in Skokie on behalf of important community causes. In contrast to the Alliance, the current board’s diversity represents that of the village as a whole.
- Approval of the work of the board is borne out by community surveys taken every three years by an independent company, the National Research Center, expert in municipal government. NRC studies Skokie through random contact with Skokie residents and evaluates the village compared to other municipalities across the country (called benchmarks) and the level of satisfaction with village government. In all cases, Skokie’s departments have achieved scores above the benchmarks across the country and the rating of satisfaction by residents is high/good for all of the departments. This survey is an instrument used by the village board to determine where improvements can be made and what new services ought to be approved. (The survey is available on the village’s website and is in the current Skokie newsletter.) The Skokie Police, Fire and Public Works departments are fully accredited; the health department, one of only five municipal health departments in Illinois, is board-certified, which gave Skokie an advantage in combating COVID-19. The finance department regularly receives the National Finance Excellence In Budgeting award from the International Finance Officers Association. The views of residents, as reflected in the community survey, is consistent with these accreditations. The Village of Skokie is looked upon as a model of good government for good reason.
- Skokie government engages the community through the active participation of residents in its 15 boards and commissions. Approximately 250 residents from all walks of life, every geographic area of the village, representing all ethnic, racial and gender identification groups are participants. They review current policies with the aim of proposing new policies when warranted to the village board. These commissions range from hiring and promoting police and fire officers, recommending smoking cessation ordinances by the Board of Health, to land-use decisions. Some of these commissioners ultimately run for elected office and serve on school and park district boards.
- Under the current system, members of the village board take a comprehensive view of the impact of policies and projects on the entire village and not just a narrow view from a small area of the village. A project, for example, might be opposed by some residents in one neighborhood but the board, after studying the issue, might conclude that the project will benefit the greater number of people in the village. Our village functions well because we share everyone’s best interests, not the myopic approaches within a small area.
- Rather than changing a system of government that works by all Skokians we should be concentrating our attention on important issues confronting us — continuation of twice-a-week garbage pick-up, ending the use of plastic bags, banning leaf-blowers in the village and making improvements to our co-responder program.
- The system of government proposed by the proponents will be needlessly confusing and counterproductive. Rather than ensure larger turnout, it will only produce confusion as to which candidates they are voting for, more than likely resulting in an even smaller turnout. The proponents would be better off spending time and money organizing and running candidates in the next municipal election.
- Historically, elections at the local level don’t drive high turnout. There is little difference in turnout between ward and at-large systems. If the Alliance wants to increase turnout at the local level, it should be proposing that local elections coincide with presidential and/or gubernatorial elections. In addition, local elections are higher when a mayor is at the top of the ticket. In a staggered system, the off-year election would have a lower turnout because the mayor would not be on the ticket.
- Finally, it has been charged that incumbents don’t take positions on issues. That is completely untrue. Our campaign literature, which is sent to every residence in Skokie, talks about our positions on taxes, sustainability, diversity, public services and social justice.
George Van Dusen, Mayor, Village of Skokie