Sunday Northwest Herald Executive Editor Chris Krug wrote of taking some heat from a reader who criticized him in a letter to his boss John Rung.
In response, Krug said he was going to list the benefits of township government.
What followed was nine empty lines.
Of the six comments when I wrote this at 2 yesterday afternoon, most were favorable to Krug’s viewpoint.
The final one, from “hblarson” read,
“Chris: The township is the most democratic of our American institutions. To do away with the township is to admit We the People are incapable of maintaining a democratic form of government. One way of looking at the issue is: If residents of a township are unhappy with their town government, they, as electors, are empowered to change it.”
Larson, alas, is remembering the past.
Back in 1969. township electors indeed had power.
They had the power of setting the budget.
That year, Porten’s Subdivision in Nunda Township next to the Fox River, which had private roads the Nunda Township Road Commissioner would not repair because, well, because they were private, went on the war path.
They packed the township meeting and lowered each line item in the road commissioner’s budget to $1.
What they didn’t know was the township road commissioner’s salary was in the Town Fund.
So, the road commissioner got paid, but didn’t have the money to do any work.
That same year, electors supporting reform-assessor Forrest Hare took control of the Algonquin Township meeting at Eastview Grade School on Route 62.
The pesky homeowners, who were fed up with being assessed by the county supervisor of assessments at a higher level than elsewhere in McHenry County, inserted $500 in the budget to sue for equity.
$500 was a big number then.
The Algonquin Township attorney managed to spend the $500 without filing suit, so nothing substantive came of the action.
Except, township officials asked the Illinois General Assembly to change state law so uppity citizens would have no say on the budget.
Instead all the decisions henceforth would be made by the township auditors (the name changed later to “trustees”).
So commenter Larson, direct democracy died about 1970.
Annual Town Meetings now have very little substance to them, despite the Grafton Township exception this year.
In fact, it would surprise me not one bit if the Township Officials of Illinois lobbyists were not at this very moment trying to change township law to remove the requirement that voters have to approve borrowing money to build township buildings.
That would overturn the law made by 2nd Appellate Justices in the Grafton Township case last year.
Just this year, some Grafton Township citizens petitioned to have votes on whether to fire the township attorney, Ancel Glink.
Ancel Glink Partner Rob Bush ruled that township electors did not have that power, so the question could not be put on the Annual Town Meeting agenda.
So sad, attorneys are hired and fired only by township boards.
Firing the new Township Administrator was also ruled to be none of the township electors’ business.
And that revolutionary idea of requiring Robert’s Rules of Order at all township board meetings, well, in that matter, too, the electors were irrelevant. (Now, Grafton township meetings often resemble a free for all, the board having set themselves from Robert’s Rules of Order.)
So, Mr. or Mrs. Larson, the next time you try to defend township government because it is some Athenian democratic ideal, please don’t.
Just as “American Pie” relates the “day the music died,” direct democracy died in township government decades ago.
Now, township boards run the show pretty much as city councils do. And as county boards do. And as school boards.
Nothing very special about the way townships are governed.