Though the talk at Rock Island County forums is focused on a public building referendum, when voters go to the polls Tuesday they'll also be asked how their county board should be elected.|
On its face, the advisory question which asks whether voters favor keeping single-member county board districts might seem unrelated to a binding referendum seeking to expand RICO's public building commission. But leaders would be unwise to ignore the connection.
Indeed, we're convinced that it was the county board's unresponsiveness to another advisory referendum calling for slashing the size of the county board which helped to make the public building commission measure such a tough sell. As we noted Thursday, trust is clearly an issue and the board's decisions regarding the last referendum hardly helped matters.
It was impossible to miss the message voters were sending in overwhelmingly backing slashing the board from 25 members to 15, with five elected from each of three districts. Leaders refused to do so because they said they can't: State law dictates that board size can only be set once a decade after a referendum. They're seeking an attorney general's opinion to bolster their case. Meanwhile, if voters we've heard from are any indication, many are unhappy with what they see as an effort to subvert their will. Which leads us to Tuesday's latest county board makeup question.
Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek proposed the referendum because he said he believes having just three districts, as the original referendum outlined, would mean fewer board members from rural areas or minority communities. "You'd end up with a board that would only have people from Moline and Rock Island," he said.
Board member Drue Mielke, R-Coal Valley, however, questioned why the chair would bother asking the question at all if the referendum on board size is meaningless. "I believe it's a tactic to muddy the waters and circumvent the will of the people," said the new board member who was elected while campaigning hard for the board reduction referendum.
Clearly, Chairman Banaszek wants single-member districts. As for Mr. Mielke, he said, "It's irrelevant. They didn't listen the last time so why would they listen this time?"
No doubt about it. It's a mess. But voters still must vote on the advisory issue Tuesday. Our recommendation? We suspect that single-member districts would boost rural and minority representation as well as ensuring that board members would have fewer people to represent and, thus, would be more responsive to their needs.
That's in theory of course ... but in practice ...