Originally Posted Online: Jan. 09, 2013, 9:58 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 10, 2013, 7:21 am
Rock Island County Board size may not change until after 2020 census
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By Eric Timmons firstname.lastname@example.org
Voters who backed a referendum to reduce the size of the Rock Island County Board may have to wait until after 2020 for the board to act on their wish.
An opinion from the Illinois Attorney General's office released by county officials suggests there's no way to cut the board until after the next census in 2020.
In an advisory referendum proposed by Republicans in November, an overwhelming majority voted to reduce the size of the board from 25 to 15 members. The size of the board has traditionally been set after the census, which is conducted once per decade.
However, some Republicans want to see an attempt to reduce the board before then, especially given the 72 percent vote in favor of reducing the board in the referendum.
Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek, D-Moline, said the opinion by former Illinois Attorney General Bill Scott, issued in 1974, made clear the board could only be reduced once per decade after the census.
Mr. Banaszek said it was time for those who insist the board can be reduced outside of the census "to put up or shut up."
But Rock Island County Board member Drue Mielke, R-Coal Valley, said he was not satisfied by what he sees as a former attorney general's interpretation of state statutes.
"This is an opinion," he said. "It isn't law or a court decision."
The 1974 opinion from former attorney general Scott, a Republican, resulted from an inquiry about the possibility of reducing the size of the Winnebago County Board.
"It is my opinion that once the various elements of the reapportionment plan are adopted, they remain fixed for the 10-year life of the plan," Mr. Scott wrote in his opinion.
The Rock Island County Board completed reapportionment in 2011 as usual after the 2010 census and if Mr. Scott's opinion is correct should not be able to look at the size of the board again until the 2020 census has been completed.
Mr. Mielke said one possible route to reducing the board would be for all county board members to agree to serve a two-year term. Then, in 2014, voters would elect 15 or fewer board members instead of 25. The action could open the county to legal action, leaving the courts to settle the question, Mr. Mielke said.
At present, board members serve staggered four- or two-year terms. A drawing determines term length for the 25 districts.
"I feel we have an obligation because of the referendum to go as deep into this as we can," Mr. Mielke said.
Mr. Banaszek said an opinion from the county's civil division concurred with the 1974 opinion from the Illinois Attorney General's office. Mr. Mielke said he plans to speak about the board's size at next Tuesday's county board meeting.