Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013, 9:02 pm

RI County to draft letter to Madigan on altering number of board members

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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

The debate over when the Rock Island County Board can alter the number of its members may end up in the hands of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

The board agreed on Tuesday its governmental affairs committee should draft a letter asking Ms. Madigan to weigh in with a new legal opinion. If the committee approves the letter, the full county board would have to approve it before it would be submitted to the attorney general.

The question arises after county voters in November voted overwhelmingly in an advisory referendum to cut the board from 25 to 15 members.

The size of the board is normally set every 10 years after the census, and a legal opinion issued in 1974 by former Illinois Attorney General Bill Scott suggested that is the only time the size of the board can be addressed.

Though the Rock Island County Board re-drew districts as scheduled in 2011 -- retaining 25 single-member districts -- board member Drue Mielke, R-Coal Valley, said respect for the voters' wishes, as expressed in the referendum, requires the county to draft an ordinance that would reduce the board to 15 members, with five members elected from each of three districts.

Mr. Mielke points to a second opinion from Mr. Scott, issued in 1976, that seems to say re-drawing districts can be done more often than every 10 years, in some circumstances.The opinion states, if voters decide to change from single-member to multi-member districts, "the number of board members would have to be reduced to conform to the one-man one-vote requirements.

"In such a situation, conformity to the constitution would seem to require a departure from the normal decennial rule (for altering the size of the board)," the opinion states.

Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek stated Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee has concurred with the 1974 opinion that the board could not be reduced once reapportionment was completed after a census.

Rock Island County Board member Don Johnston, D-Moline, said he supported seeking an opinion from Ms. Madigan as a way "to finally put this thing to bed."