History of Township Abolition Movement

McHenry County Board member Mike Walkup posted the following as a comment.  It explains a lot of how we got where we are with regard to township government:

Here is the skinny on this whole effort.

Bob Anderson

Bob Anderson

Back in 1974, Bob Anderson got wind of an effort that was being made by a Republican paralegal in Rock Island who worked for legal aid there and who wanted to abolish all of the Democrat controlled townships in that county.

Bob circulated petitions all Summer, along with his wife, Judy, and a handful of supporters, and managed to collect 13,000 signatures, a probably unprecedented accomplishment at the time.

As soon as he filed he was challenged by township officials.

There were two grounds for the challenges.

First, they said he didn’t have enough valid signatures and made a number of objections, many of which were spurious.

Second, they said he used the wrong language for the petitions.

In turns out that in response to the Rock Island efforts, the state township lobbying organization, Township Officials of Illinois (TOI) had gotten the legislature to amend the Township Code in terms of the requirements for petitions, 3 times in the space of 4 years.

This was to throw the township opponents off base.

It worked, as the Rock Island paralegal was continuing to advise people of the language he had used but in the interim the language had been changed.

Bob took his advice and used language which was no longer sanctioned in the statute.

It turns out, however, that the TOI had outsmarted itself and had inadvertently gone back to a previous version of the Township Code which had a lower signature requirement when they changed the language.

Mike Walkup

Mike Walkup

Bob hired me to represent him (which I did free of charge).

I caught the fact that the signature requirement had been lowered and brought that up at the hearing before the county election board.

This caused the township supporters to drop the signature challenges, which would have taken hundreds of hours to go through, and rely instead on the wrong language issue.

After losing at the election board, Bob went to court, and I arranged for him to hire some outside counsel who were state renowned election law specialists.

We were successful in getting Judge Franz in Woodstock to reverse the election board’s ruling and place it on the ballot.

The townships filed an appeal.

This appeal was eventually decided in Bob’s favor but not until just a couple of days before the election, which didn’t allow time for campaigning.

The referendum was defeated by a 3 to 1 margin.

There were two issues raised during the campaign by the township supporters.

One was that if you abolish all of the townships, you have to go to a three member Commission which replaces the County Board.

This is because originally the County Board was composed of township supervisors.

When this was declared unconstitutional as a violation of “one person one vote” principles, the law was never changed.

The second was that there were no provisions for other units of government to take over the township functions.

Therefore, there was no provision for who would maintain the township roads, do the assessments, etc.

Moreover, if such a referendum were to be passed, it would take effect immediately, so there would be no transition period.

If it passed at a Fall election, there would be no authority for the county to take over the snow plowing on township roads.

If it took place at a Spring election, the township assessors would not be able to complete the assessments for that year and the county assessor would not be authorized to do so absent intervening legislative action.

Following the election, a task force was therefore set up at the state level chaired by our own Rep. Ann Hughes.

This task force was supposed to address the transition issues and provide mechanisms for the transfer of township functions in the event that townships were abolished in a county.

Instead of doing that, the task force, under pressure from the TOI, simply passed a bill that made it more difficult to abolish all of the townships in the county by requiring that 3/4ths of the townships had to approve by majority vote in each one, instead of just a majority vote in the county as a whole.

(This is probably not a bad idea but the fact remains that they deliberately stopped there and the task force was disbanded).

In the intervening period, Bob has tried unsuccessfully to have the transition legislation addressed, including coming before the County Board and asking for us to request that from the General Assembly.

The Board took no action.

That’s where it stands now.

The consolidation approach was selected because there are specific provisions for transfer of functions from the previous townships to the newly consolidated township, along with a time schedule that allows for the transition to occur before the next township elections.

It also does not affect the size of the County Board.


History of Township Abolition Movement — 7 Comments

  1. An incomplete telling of the Twh abolition movement.

    With out adding more of Bob’s story, the whole story is incomplete.

    Bias people tend to leave out key parts for political gain.

  2. There is a 400 page book written on this which you can read if you want more information.

    It is referenced in one of my responses which I don’t have the time to look up now.

  3. Mike, are you talking about the book

    Township: Diffusion and Persistence of Grassroots Government in Illinois, 1850-2000?

  4. It’s at the Woodstock Library.

    I started reading it and it was pretty dry.

    Maybe it gets better when it gets a little more modern, but it goes into immense detail of township elections in many counties throughout the state going back to the mid 1800’s.

    Anyway, I know Bob Anderson is mentioned in that book many times. (I looked his name up in the index.)

  5. Joe, you are free to skip ahead to the good parts.

    Sorry if people find that reading is “dry”, Nob.

    Try History of the Peloponnesian Wars sometime.

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