Whoever convinced the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office to try to knock two anti-tax candidates off the April 9th McHenry County College ballot didn’t have a good day.
Or, to put it in Cary School Board member Chris Jenner’s words, “two weeks ago today was the first candidates’ forum and newspaper interviews began [shortly thereafter].
“This is a way you can get two anti-tax guys off the ballot.”
A suit contending Jenner and Erik Sivertsen should be thrown off the ballot because the offices of grade school board and junior college were incompatible was brought on an emergency basis last Wednesday by the State’s Attorney.
But on Thursday morning, Judge Meyer learned the deadline was not that day, but Monday, for the ballots to be printed.
So he allowed briefs to be filed (read Jenner’s by attorney Bob Wagner here) and read them, the law and an Attorney General’s Opinion before coming to his courtroom Monday afternoon.
Toward the end of the session, the Judge dropped a hint of his conclusion when Assistant State’s Attorney Brandy Quance mentioned that the question had been brought up by “the Lake County Clerk [Willard R. Helander]. She’s an attorney. They are off the ballot in Lake County.”
“Be that as it may, one of us is wrong,” Judge Thomas Meyer observed.
The Assistant State’s Attorney argued in her brief that service on grade school boards and a junior college board were incompatible.
But Meyer’s first words may have also hinted at his leanings.
“I guess I’m not sure why there is incompatibility.”
Quance argued that legislative history and construction should be taken into account, but Judge Meyer pointed out that what is in the law today “doesn’t apply to where a person is running for both [offices]…”
“I don’t see that as necessarily applying to this particular suit.”
“I agree that having one person running for both [offices]…is something the statute probably intended to address, but I don’t see it.
Quance argued that “without putting some meaning to the statute we wouldn’t need it.”
Judge Meyer agreed that was “a reasonable question.”
Bob Wagner, Jenner’s attorney, got his chance next.
He argued that the legislature had said, “Hey, we want qualified people to run for the school board,” that it was “encouraging people to run.”
He noted the one exception was that “if you are a sitting member of the junior college board, you can’t run for school board.”
He then referred to Quance’s desire to consider “construction.”
“If it’s incompatible, one can’t serve even one day,” Wagner asserted.
“Here we have a statute [one saying that a grade school board member elected to a junior college board could serve out his term] that says they are not incompatible.”
“The fact that we are here cries to the ambiguity of the statute.”
Wagner argued use of “a plain, common sense reading…to accept any other interpretation would be to deny the broad interpretation of ballot access.
“The public policy favors the right of people to vote, the right of people to run for office.”
Quance pointed out that voters would not have the right to select their grade school member either if a person running for both grade school board and junior college won the school board spot and then resigned.
“If [one] can’t serve in two offices, then you’re unable to run [for them],” Quance said.
“He’s [Jenner’s] already indicated a desired to withdraw [from the Cary Grade School Board ballot],” the Judge interjected.
“He already has–last week,” Wagner informed the Court.
To Quance, the Judge said, “Your problem is his running for election to the school board at the same time he’s running for college board.”
“He would not be able to hold both offices at the same time,” Quance replied.
“What I see she’s saying is that he might be elected, not that he’s on the board,” Wagner said.
“At the time of filing he was not a sitting [junior college] board member, so he has every right to run. The Supreme Court says you can’t look at a future event.”
“That’s not what I read this to be,” Quance replied. “He’s not eligible for election to the community college [board].”
Judge Meyer agreed with Wagner’s “contention with events that have not taken place.
“It doesn’t say a person who is a member of common school board may not run [for community college board].
“If he were elected to the Board of Trustees, he would not be eligible for the grade school [board]”, Quance continued.
“I agree it sets up an odd situation, but I can’t manufacture a solution that the legislature didn’t [enact],” the Judge said.
“I would have to be convinced that this statute serves as a bar.”
“There wouldn’t be a need for the statute, if they were compatible,” Quance replied.
“They are not inherently incompatible,” the Judge replied.
“I think a plain reading of the statute supports Mr. Jenner’s position,” Judge Meyer concluded.
“I guess I’m surprised [at the imprecision of the legislative language].
“It’s not my job to tell them to write better law…
“The statute tells me that they are not incompatible.
“I can’t agree with your argument that the two offices are incompatible.”
Sivertsen was asked if had anything to add and he quoted something I didn’t catch to which Judge Meyer replied, “A valid point.”
“I’m going to deny the request and let them stay on the ballot.”
Quance asked for a ruling that the two offices were compatible, but the Judge demurred, limiting his decision to the ballot access question.
Sivertsen: “That’s the outcome I expected after reading the statute and the Attorney General’s opinion.”
Jensen: “I’m pleased we can now focus on the main issue of this campaign, which is the attempt by the current McHenry County College Board to rob taxpayers of their right to a vote on being saddled with $45 million of bond debt through their property taxes.”