In April 2007, the area now known as Campton Hills, Illinois voted to incorporate as a village with the goals of preserving the area’s rural character and “no new taxes.” Now, however, concerned citizens fear the village itself may be the principal threat to both.
Initially, pro-village advocates supported incorporation based on three principles: self-determination, preservation, and no new taxes. They claimed becoming a municipality would give residents necessary leadership to stop encroaching developers while maintaining a minimal village government run solely on state funds (at no local expense to residents). Most importantly, village advocates promised outlying residents could disconnect from the village by petition.
Residents are now learning, however, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
There are currently eight separate disconnection initiatives filed and in progress, with more on the way. The most recent case is Arbor Creek, a large subdivision with 162 homes.
Contrary to incorporation campaign promises when the referendum was passed last April, the village has chosen to fight each of the disconnection initiatives in court.
Village President Patsy Smith says she feels duty-bound to defend the original boundaries of Campton Hills as passed in the referendum. She says by allowing detachments “we could be disenfranchising and taking action against what the people in those areas wanted.” Smith also argues detachments are a tax base issue as any dollar lost “would unduly harm our village.”
In response to what they see as oppressive village leadership, a grassroots movement of local activists has organized to form the Free Us from Campton Hills Committee. Stated grievances range from basic property rights to government transparency.
Free Us activists started with a referendum for village dissolution, which required 2,059 signatures–as opposed to the 250 required for incorporation. Their first petition was determined invalid after 1,600 signatures were collected, due to a format technicality. In a second, rushed effort, they gathered 2,354 signatures on a corrected petition between November 4 and 18 of last year.
Village proponents then challenged the petition, accusing Free Us activists of “widespread fraud.” Such a challenge would normally be reviewed by the local Village Electoral Review Board, but Free Us activists successfully filed an injunction with 16th Circuit Court Judge Michael Colwell so the petition would be reviewed by another governing body. The challenge was assigned to the Kane County Electoral Review Board, and the referendum petition was ruled valid on December 28.
But village officials weren’t finished yet.
Although the petition was ruled valid, the village dug up one more technicality. Ballots in Campton Hills are limited to three referendum questions. The village filled the February 5 ballot referendum slots and could conceivably continue to do so in the future. This would effectively block a dissolution referendum indefinitely.
Additionally, while circulating the dissolution petitions, a full slate of Free Us candidates also filed for the first village election on February 5. Petitions were challenged for village president candidate Robert Young and village clerk candidate Carolyn Higgins, then subject to the Campton Hills Village Electoral Review Board. Higgins’ papers were approved, but Young’s petitions were dismissed on a technicality. Consequently, Young was removed from the ballot and forced to reapply on a write-in basis.
Down But Not Out
The February 5 election results gave a slim victory to Campton Hills incumbents. Young performed well as a write-in candidate (more than 1,500 votes) but lost to Smith’s 54 percent of the vote. Higgins won the village clerk position by 2 percentage points. Pro-village trustees won by 1 to 2 percentage points each in other races.
Despite recent defeats, movement leader Chris Baldwin remains optimistic.
“We’re going to push on the two fronts,” Baldwin said. “There will be a definitive accountability [trustees] have not had to address to date.”
Drew Veeneman ([email protected]) is an independent political consultant in Kane County, Illinois. An earlier version of this article appeared on the Sam Adams Alliance Web site at http://www.samadamsalliance.org. Used with permission.