Ballot moves could pre-empt town meeting

Mike Monson // Published June 14, 2008 in Urbana/Champaign News-Gazette
URBANA – The advisory referendum battles in Urbana continued Friday with a new twist.

Two Cunningham Town Board members have called a special town board meeting for 7 p.m. Monday, where the board (which also serves as the Urbana City Council) will consider placing three advisory questions on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The meeting will be in the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St.

The move could wind up pre-empting a special town meeting that had been scheduled for June 30, where two advisory ballot questions were going to be considered by township residents.

Only three such questions can be put on the ballot at one time.

The moves are a continuation of the skirmishes between the regular Democratic organization and a coalition of Greens and Libertarians.

In recent years, local Greens and progressives have been using the annual town meeting, where township voters can attend and vote, to place advisory referendums on the ballot. Many have been about issues such as the Iraq War and whether President Bush should be impeached.

But at the April 8 Cunningham Town meeting, Democratic Party regulars packed the meeting and voted down efforts by local activists to place three questions on the ballot. Those proposed questions concerned whether the Urbana City Council should put a binding referendum on the ballot asking voters if they want to switch to instant-runoff voting for city elections; whether voters want the city and township to post financial records and contracts on the Internet; and whether the city should pursue ownership of the local water system.

The loss infuriated local Greens and Libertarians, who didn't see it coming. In May, they submitted a petition signed by 28 residents requesting a special town meeting, where attendees would consider again advisory referendums about instant runoff voting and financial transparency. That meeting was scheduled for June 30.

But the special town board meeting, where only town board members (the seven aldermen and mayor) will vote, could make the special town meeting moot if the board puts three questions on the ballot. Mayor Laurel Prussing and six of the seven council members are Democrats.

The latest maneuvering upset Durl Kruse, who passed petitions for the special town meeting and who is an advocate for instant-runoff voting.

"Isn't that really dirty?" Kruse said. "I can't believe they would stoop that low to prevent the people from discussing issues.

"Our meeting should take precedence," he added. "We're going to have to get an attorney. This is really crazy."

But Prussing said the move by the town board is fair and that it is Kruse and others who keep bringing the issues up after being defeated.

"I think they're misusing the township," she said. "I don't want to have to be called into a special meeting every month to talk about the same stupid thing. These meetings take time and energy and money to conduct. If they're making the contention we need discussion, we'll put it on the ballot."

The proposed ballot questions that the town board will consider at Monday's meeting:

– "Do you support restrictions on the use of cell phones by drivers and bicyclists using public streets and by pedestrians crossing streets who become so engrossed in their phone conversation that they are a danger to themselves and others?"

– "Shall the method of election of officers in Cunningham Township be maintained as currently established so that the candidate with the greatest number of votes is elected?"

– Shall Cunningham Township continue to provide financial information and assessment information that meets or exceeds all legal requirements for full disclosure and add new methods by request of individuals so long as it will not add undue expense?"