A trio of Dolton village trustees scored a victory in their dispute with the mayor and clerk over the legality of the town’s recall ordinance, as an appeals panel found the Illinois state constitution requires municipalities, like Dolton, must first secure the approval of voters at referendum for such recall powers.
Tiffany Henyard, Stanley H. Brown and Robert G. Hunt Jr., all elected to four-year terms as trustees in the south suburban village on April 2013, earlier this year sought an injunction against the village of Dolton, naming its mayor, Riley H. Rogers, and Village Clerk Mark Kay Dugan as co-defendants. The root cause was Ordinance 15-022, adopted June 1, 2015, on a 4-3 vote.
Henyard, Brown and Hunt — who identify themselves as “political adversaries of the mayor” — voted against the ordinance amending village code to provide for recall of elected officials. It was applied retroactively to those elected in April 2013 — but not those elected in April 2015.
Cook County Circuit Judge Mary L. Mikva granted the defendants’ motion for judgment, but in an opinion issued last week, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s decision. Justice Mary Anne Mason wrote the opinion; judges Terrence J. Lavin and Aurelia Pucinski concurred.
The root of the complaint is the argument the new recall procedure “alters the terms of office and the manner of selection of those officials.” The plaintiffs claimed the move violated the state constitution because the Village Board adopted the policy without a referendum.
In the Jan. 11 appellate opinion, Mason agreed with Mikva’s opinion that the argument turned on two cases — the 1981 state appellate decision in Williamson v. Doyle and the 1986 state Supreme Court ruling in Leck v. Michaelson. In the the Williamson case, the village of Northlake, which was not a home-rule unit, proposed a referendum asking voters to decide if the city should adopt a recall ordinance. That court “distinguished the means by which home-rule and non-home -rule units could effect the process of recall,” Mason wrote.
The Leck case covered the nature of the state constitution’s limitation on a home rule unit’s legislative authority, focusing on an ordinance the home-rule village of Lansing enacted “following a referendum requiring runoff elections for any office for which no candidate received 50 percent of the votes cast.
“Ultimately, the court concluded that the language of the referendum was vague and ambiguous so that it could not be determined what the voters had approved and, therefore, the implementing ordinance, which addressed many details of the runoff procedure that had not been included in the referendum, was defective as well,” the appellate justices wrote.
Looking at both precedents, the appeals court found the way Williamson characterized recall procedures as a way to deprive home-rule voters of referendum power did not withstand the Supreme Court’s analysis in Leck, which examined the practical effects of the ordinance on the elected officials’ terms.
Since Dolton’s ordinance was approved without referendum, if it either altered the terms of office or the manner of selecting the officers, it does not square with Section 6(f) of Article VII of the state constitution, the appellate justices said
“A home rule unit like Dolton does have the power to enact a valid recall ordinance, but only after it is approved via a valid voter referendum,” Mason wrote. “Because Dolton's ordinance contravenes the limitation on a home rule unit's powers … it is invalid.”
The appellate court remanded the “matter to the trial court with directions to enter summary judgment in plaintiffs’ favor.”
Plaintiffs in the case were represented by the firm of Hauser Izzo, of Flossmoor.
The village was represented by the firm of Rosenthal, Murphey, Coblentz & Donahue, of Chicago.