The Daily Chronicle opines that a special meeting of Cortland Township electors held January 31, 2013 produced a small victory for taxpayers. It’s got my nose all out of joint.
Actually the meeting was one small victory for Cortland Township Electors and one giant leap forward for registered voters. In one meeting the registered voters (electors) of Cortland Township met to give direction for their board to take measures to enforce their resolution adopted at a March 18, 2010 special meeting denying the landfill siting expansion proposed by Waste Management. At both this most recent meeting and at the 2010 meeting the registered voters were exercising their legal authority granted under the Illinois Township Code chapters of the Illinois State Compiled Statutes.
Voters giving direction to their elected board on an important matter with authority. Even the Chronicle editorial board would have to admit that’s an extremely rare occurrence.
About 75 Cortland Township Electors took time from their schedules to attend the meeting on the coldest night of the year to date. They voted to direct their board to take legal action to prevent the landfill expansion as afforded them under 60 ILCS 1/30-120. They voted for the board to begin that process when presented by supporters of the decision of the Cortland Township Electors with the up to $60,000 limit offered by attorney Jeff Jeep to take the case to the Illinois Supreme Court. Jeep also said the costs could come in at around $35,000 because the bulk of the legal action (costs) will be on the briefs filed in response to a likely Waste Management motion to dismiss the case.
The meeting did get rowdy at times. But it was a civil rowdiness. The objective was to put the Cortland Township Board of Trustees on notice that their Electors were taking the necessary legal measures to enforce their directive that the landfill expansion shall not be permitted.
Frankie Benson was the moderator for the May 18, 2010 special meeting when electors overwhelmingly denied the proposed landfill expansion. She was also elected moderator for the January 31, 2013 meeting.
About a third of the people in attendance have been fighting the proposed landfill expansion for three years now. Full disclosure: I’m one of those people. Dan Kenney and I met impromptu when the minimum standard public notice was published announcing that one and only siting expansion public hearing. We were soon joined by other residents, many of Cortland Township, who had concerns on issues ranging from health and safety to quality of life and were appalled by the ex-parte communications rule that prevented elected decision makers from communicating with voters about such an impacting decision.
One third were Town of Cortland officials and their supporters who’ve been catching grief for three years for agreeing, before the public hearing, to not object to Waste Management’s proposal in exchange for $1 million plus other considerations.
The remaining electors in attendance probably had questions that went unanswered. Some motions were tabled until the Cortland Township Annual Meeting of the Electors.
Original motions were made by the electors objecting to the expansion proposal. Amendments to those motions, motions to table and motions to end discussion were made by Town of Cortland officials. Waste Management’s lead attorney in the landfill expansion process, Don Moran, attended and witnessed the proceedings.
When it was all said and done the electors of the January 31 special meeting voted to proceed with the legal course discussed.
Small steps. These meetings of township electors were unheard of until very recently. Procedures will tighten. Sooner rather than later township electors will apply modern technology to their rediscovered powers of We the People. There is probably already an app for attending and/or voting at meetings. But there is not a more local or direct way to have input on some vitally important issues.
The Chronicle editorial board thinks that the township’s legal argument is flimsy: “The Illinois Environmental Protection Act lays out in detail the process for approving landfills, and gives the authority for their approval to counties or municipalities and the IEPA. It makes no mention of townships.”
Actually that’s not entirely true. The word “township” is mentioned seven times. And according to 415 ILCS 5/19.2(g) of the Illinois Environmental Protect Act townships are defined as a local unit of government. “Local unit of government” is mentioned many times throughout the Act and there are important implications for that term.
Jeff Jeep, a partner in the law firm of Jeep & Blazer, LLC spoke at the meeting. He has more than 30 years experience in environmental law and as in-house counsel for Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) from 1985 to 1994, he had responsibility for literally hundreds of Superfund Sites.
Jeep & Blazer represented the City of Waukegan in the matter of City of Waukegan, et al. v. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and North Shore Sanitary District. This was an action by the City challenging the effort by the Sanitary District to build a sewage sludge incinerator on the City’s lakefront. The case involved, among other things, issues of municipal law, environmental law, administrative law, zoning and land use law, constitutional law and the respective rights of governmental entities. The City obtained both a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction barring the construction of the subject facility. The trial court’s decision was subsequently affirmed by the Illinois Appellate Court in City of Waukegan v. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, 339 Ill.App.3d 963 (2nd Dist. 2003). The Sanitary District thereafter abandoned its effort to build the facility in Waukegan.
The firm also represented the Village of Glendale Heights in opposition to an application for local siting approval, in Carol Stream, of a solid waste transfer station. Following three weeks of public hearings, the Carol Stream Village Board unanimously denied the siting application. The Town of Cortland did not attend or participate in the DeKalb County landfill siting application hearing.
Jeep was not aware of the powers granted to township electors pertaining to garbage disposal facilities until the statutes were presented to him. After research he discovered that the Illinois Township Code was amended in 1994 with one word change. Public Act 88-0062 was passed with no debate on the floor of the 88th Illinois General Assembly on July 7, 1993 and became effect January 1, 1994. The one word change was to strike the word “not” from 60 ILCS 1/30-120. What previously said This Section does NOT apply [...] to read:
This Section does apply to refuse disposal facilities regulated by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the county in which the facilities are located.
Full text of 60 ILCS 1/30-120: Garbage. The electors may prevent the deposit of night soil, garbage, or other offensive substances within the limits of the township. This Section does apply to refuse disposal facilities regulated by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the county in which the facilities are located. (PA 88-0062)
The word “NOT” was removed. Why? What was the legislators’ intent? Perhaps to protect citizens in the event Section 39.2 of the Environmental Protection Act was being abused like a runaway freight train?
From my own googling: On July 7 1993 House Bill 2120 (main sponsor was Joel Brunsvold) passed Illinois General Assembly and became Public Act 88-0062. There was little or no debate on the bill at any time during the 88th session (1993-1994).
However there were two hotly debated issues concurrent to the bill’s passage. There was an attempt to eliminate township governments (failed). And there was the Bartlett Balefill. That was a huge fight to site a landfill in unincorporated Cook County. Downstate legislators were angered that unincorporated Cook County was getting treated differently in the landfill siting process than other Illinois unincorporated areas.
Joel Brunsvold died in 2010. Brunsvold was a prolific bill writer. Former Representative Cal Skinner remembers the township and the Bartlett Balefill debates but he does not recall Brunsvold’s bill probably because it wasn’t debated much.
It is not beyond the realm of possibilities that Brunsvold, who was a supporter of townships and angered with the Bartlett Balefill legislation, took advantage of a low profile bill to give townships new meaning and rural people protection from Chicago’s garbage.
If people want to launch a drive to raise $60,000 for a cause, why not make it one that will achieve some tangible results for people here in DeKalb County? — Daily Chronicle Editorial Board
Wow. The Chronicle is so resolved on this issue they felt the need to discourage grassroots fundraising to pay for legal expenses. For those mindful of the golden rule would the results be more tangible if you lived closer to the landfill?
The crying shame is that citizens of Cortland Township are asked to raise $60,000 through private or public sources to get the courts to mitigate a clear conflict in statutes. Resolution of that conflict should be provided as a courtesy. If there was a state representative or state senator not just turning their heads they might help clear the matter up. It’s that simple. Waste Management shouldn’t even have to pay for this legal clarification.
But Cortland Township Electors will ultimately decide if they want their rights under the Illinois Township Code argued. The irony is their decision on whether to argue their case in the courts will likely set precedence for all other townships in Illinois. Should Cortland Township Electors prevail there would likely be similar action throughout Illinois by electors to prevent any new or expanded landfills. That’s how grassroots citizens can force their governments and corporations to set deadlines for progressing from burying garbage knowing there are consequences we do not understand (see Jeep’s tenure with Waste Management and the literally 100s of Superfund Sites) to advancing, cleaner technologies in recycling and waste to energy.
That’s one giant leap forward for registered voters.
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