Voters who backed a referendum to reduce the size of the Rock Island County Board may have to wait until after 2020 for the board to act on their wish.
An opinion from the Illinois Attorney General's office released by county officials suggests there's no way to cut the board until after the next census in 2020.
In an advisory referendum proposed by Republicans in November, an overwhelming majority voted to reduce the size of the board from 25 to 15 members. The size of the board has traditionally been set after the census, which is conducted once per decade.
However, some Republicans want to see an attempt to reduce the board before then, especially given the 72 percent vote in favor of reducing the board in the referendum.
Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek, D-Moline, said the opinion by former Illinois Attorney General Bill Scott, issued in 1974, made clear the board could only be reduced once per decade after the census.
Mr. Banaszek said it was time for those who insist the board can be reduced outside of the census "to put up or shut up."
But Rock Island County Board member Drue Mielke, R-Coal Valley, said he was not satisfied by what he sees as a former attorney general's interpretation of state statutes.
"This is an opinion," he said. "It isn't law or a court decision."
The 1974 opinion from former attorney general Scott, a Republican, resulted from an inquiry about the possibility of reducing the size of the Winnebago County Board.
"It is my opinion that once the various elements of the reapportionment plan are adopted, they remain fixed for the 10-year life of the plan," Mr. Scott wrote in his opinion.
The Rock Island County Board completed reapportionment in 2011 as usual after the 2010 census and if Mr. Scott's opinion is correct should not be able to look at the size of the board again until the 2020 census has been completed.
Mr. Mielke said one possible route to reducing the board would be for all county board members to agree to serve a two-year term. Then, in 2014, voters would elect 15 or fewer board members instead of 25. The action could open the county to legal action, leaving the courts to settle the question, Mr. Mielke said.
At present, board members serve staggered four- or two-year terms. A drawing determines term length for the 25 districts.
"I feel we have an obligation because of the referendum to go as deep into this as we can," Mr. Mielke said.
Mr. Banaszek said an opinion from the county's civil division concurred with the 1974 opinion from the Illinois Attorney General's office. Mr. Mielke said he plans to speak about the board's size at next Tuesday's county board meeting.
Today is Wednesday, Dec. 11, the 345th day of 2013. There are 20 days left in the year. 1863 — 150 years ago: The message of Abraham Lincoln, read in congress yesterday, is published in full in our paper today, with a new proclamation relating the terms upon which states can return to the union. 1888 — 125 years ago: An appropriation has been made by congress for the improvement of the upper Mississippi River with $200,000 set aside for the portion of the river between Keokuk and the mouth of the Illinois River. 1913 — 100 years ago: Work of remodeling First Swedish Lutheran Church at 4th Avenue and 14th Street was nearly completed. 1938 — 75 years ago: An unexplained outbreak of tularemia (rabbit fever) in the state has Illinois public health officials puzzled. Ten persons have died, and 243 are officially reported ill with the infection. 1963 — 50 years ago: A dramatic, multi-million dollar riverfront improvement project for the downtown area of Rock Island was unveiled at a meeting of 200 civic leaders at noon today. 1988 — 25 years ago: For several supporters of the Dispatch Goodfellow/Argus Santa program their donation is a year long project. Emma Pugh and Anne Persinger spent a good part of their spare time this year knitting forty pairs of mittens and slippers.