Change of course demonstrates effective governing

By on December 22, 2011

See the story: Home rule referendum tabled—for now

The Elburn Village Board changed course this week when it decided to postpone a move to place a home rule referendum before the voters during this spring’s election.

The same group of people, acting as the Elburn Committee of the Whole, had recommended approving the referendum question the week prior.

According to our story on page 1A in this week’s edition, the change was based a few factors—1) public response that demonstrated no support for a home rule measure; 2) a lack of information as to the specific potential impacts caused by becoming a home rule community; and 3) a recognition of the viewpoint that there are more significant priorities the village must face first.

The public response
There is always a fine line between an elected official pandering to public opinion and taking the public’s viewpoints into account.

On the one hand, you don’t want officials who make decisions based simply on what is the most popular option. On the other, you do want officials who take their constituents’ opinions into account when considering a decision.

In this instance, the fact that Village President Dave Anderson said he received zero feedback that the home rule referendum was a good idea—while at the same time receiving plenty of feedback that it was a bad one—makes it clear that Elburn officials are responding to public opinion without pandering to it.

It is important to note that every resident is not going to agree with every decision made by an official, but knowing that opposing viewpoints will be legitimately considered should go a long way to building a measure of trust between a governmental body and its constituents.

Lack of information
If the village had pursued the home rule referendum and it passed on election day, the village would have more taxing authority, as well as zoning authority. But what does that specifically mean to Elburn officials and residents?

Are there protective measures that the village government could take to ensure that the existing or future boards refrain from taking their newfound powers to the extreme?

At Monday’s Village Board meeting, Elburn resident Gene Taylor summed up this point perfectly: “We’re being taxed to death,” he said. “What scares me is the tax (powers). Everybody knows that once any governmental body gets the power to tax, tax, tax, it becomes abused. It’s getting to the point where enough is enough.”

One of the biggest unknowns has to do with the future: even if today’s board would act in a responsible manner with its newfound authority, how can anyone be sure what future boards would do?

Other priorities
During the meeting, Village Board member Ken Anderson pointed out that the village should focus on resolving its police pension and financial issues first, and the home rule issue could be revisited later.

With the choice that either residents will have to pass a referendum raising their taxes in a down economy or the village will have to begin figuring out how to limit the negative impacts to its essential services provided, it seems clear that village residents and their local government clearly have issues to address that will have significant impacts in the very near future.

Changing to home rule and the financial issues facing the village both would likely fundamentally change how the village government operates, and how it raises revenue to pay for it all. It makes sense to address one issue first, before tackling the other.

We’re glad to see the village take a step back and reassess if this is the right time to put the question before voters. There are many things facing both local voters and local governmental bodies.

A group of officials who recognize that more thought is needed before reacting to those challenges is a group we should be happy are in office.