Appeal Dismissed in Dispute Over Referendum of the Number of Aldermen

The City of Country Club Hills, a Chicago suburb west of the Tri-State Tollway along Interstate 80, maintained a governing body of  ten aldermen — two aldermen from each of the city’s five wards. 

In the 2012 general election, a referendum was put to the vote of the citizenry asking them whether they wanted to reduce the number of aldermen to five, one from each ward. 

The current ten aldermen would continue to serve to the end of their terms and then the number of aldermen would be reduced to five if the referendum passed. There were no objections filed, and the referendum question was referred to the county clerk to be put on the ballot. 

However, the manner in which the council of the city of Country Club Hills would shrink was not part of the referendum question. On Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012, the referendum  passed with 58.44 percent of the voters approving the measure. 

On Nov. 26, 2012, nine aldermen and two residents of the City of Country Club Hills filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County contesting the referendum’s passage. Named in the suit were the City of Country Club Hills, the Country Club Hills Clerk and the Cook County Clerk. The lawsuit sought declaratory judgment, mandamus and injunctive relief, alleging that the city clerk exceeded her authority when she chose not to include the information that the current aldermen would serve out the remaining parts of their terms.

The aldermen maintained that the referendum was short on facts, which made the  process null and void. They requested  the city clerk resist certifying the referendum’s passage because of this defect.

A court hearing was held on Dec. 7, 2012.  The court decided that the aldermen had not shown irreparable harm because the aldermen could have filed for election as independent candidates. Also, the court ruled  that the aldermen were unlikely to succeed on the merits of the case because they had time to file objections to the referendum language that was used before the ballot was certified; however,  they didn’t do so.

Furthermore, the trial court found that to grant the aldermen’s motion would be to insult the will of 58 percent of the citizens who voted in favor of the referendum. This appeal then was taken by the plaintiff. 

The appeal was filed on Dec. 13, 2012 requesting that the same proposition with an explanation on how the council would be reduced because of the April 2013 ballot or in the alternative, that if the referendum of Nov. 6, 2012 were valid, the nine aldermen could keep their seats until 2015. 

On Jan. 13, 2013, the plaintiffs’ filed a motion for an expedited appeal but were denied that relief.  On April 19, 2013, five aldermen were elected to office, and on April 30, the county clerk certified the election results.

The Illinois Appellate Court found that the issue was moot.  Although neither side raised jurisdictional issues, the appellate court has a duty to consider them sua sponte.  Sua sponte is Latin for on their own accord. 

In this case, the election that drew the complaint had already happened. The appellate court, citing case law precedent, found that this rendered the cause moot unless the case involved issues presenting “a question of great public interest.”

The public interest exception arises only if three conditions are met:  (1) it must be of a public nature; (2) it must be necessary for guiding public officers; and (3) it must be likely to recur.

This case failed the test of the public interest exception.In addition, and probably most significantly, the appellate court held that the trial court in this case had not yet addressed the merits of the complaint, but instead had been determining what to do with a preliminary injunction, which gives no guidance as to how this case should be settled in the future.

As the appellate court found its decision would not result in better instructions for public officers and the lower courts in the future, the appellate court rejected the appeal as moot and dismissed it. 

Anthony Davis, et al. v. City of Country Club Hills, et al., 2013 IL App. (1st) 123634 (September 30, 2013).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling trial matters for individuals, families and businesses for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Wrigleyville, Uptown, Woodlawn, South Chicago, South Shore, Douglas, Bronzeville, East Garfield Park, DePaul/Sheffield), Aurora, Des Plaines, Elgin, Joliet, Oak Lawn, Plainfield, Round Lake, Wheeling and Bellwood, Ill.

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