Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2013, 6:00 am
Editorial: Be informed, start today
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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
Though non-stop campaigning for the costly and divisive November election proved impossible to escape, today's primary election has largely flown below the radar.
To be sure, that's in large part because today's balloting affects a relatively small number of voters. For example, in the metro Quad-Cities, only voters in Rock Island Township, Silvis and South Moline Township will see contests. They are all important races, however, and we urge voters in the precincts that make up those districts to go to the polls before they close at 7 p.m. (if you aren't sure where to vote, contact Rock Island County Clerk Karen Kinney's office at 309-558-3569 or visit rockislandcounty.org/VoteCenters/Home/).
We also urge voters who may have no reason to go to the polls today to use the primary as impetus to begin doing their homework regarding the April 9 general election. It is, after all, results of local elections that most dramatically impact our day-to-day lives.
Those chosen have the power to impact your daily life, including the garbage you put at the curb, the streets you drive on, the water you drink, public safety, economic development your community attracts and how, and the quality of your public schools -- from pre-kindergarten to post-secondary school.
This April, besides mayors and aldermen, tax assessors and township trustees and supervisors, library and fire protection district board members, school boards and Black Hawk College trustees, voters in Rock Island and Mercer counties also will confront important, and binding, policy questions.
The Mercer County School Board is asking voters to approve a 1 percent sales tax resolution. The district says the $316,000 the tax would raise would help it avoid even deeper cuts. Proponents have their work cut out for them. County voters have rejected sales tax referendums in the past. This one could be an even tougher sell in today's economy.
The same is true of a referendum that could determine the future of the Rock Island County Courthouse. On April 9, voters will be asked to OK giving the county building commission broad authority that would include allowing it to issue bonds to build a new courthouse. (The ballot also will include a confusing advisory referendum -- prompted by the vote on reducing the size of the county board -- which seeks to determine how RICO members ought to be elected, which requires further exploration. But for now our focus is the courthouse question.)
County leaders have been publicly talking about a new courthouse since a proposal surfaced last year to relocate the courthouse and county offices to the Quad Cities Industrial Center. Since then, at the insistence of county judges, the county board agreed to put the building commission courthouse question before voters in April.
Proponents also did so with the promise of a public information campaign that has so far failed to materialize.
With the election just 40 days hence, it seems a good time to remind those behind the referendum of their duty to give the public as much information as possible before they vote. The longer it takes, the more fuel it adds to the fire for those who suggest that the referendum is merely an inconvenient step on the way to the court compelling construction of a new building. It's to county leaders' advantage for voters to reject it, the argument goes, so it would be a court order, not a vote by elected officials which compels construction.
A vigorous public awareness campaign ought to put such fears to rest, while also setting the stage to give the board clear direction about where an informed electorate wants it to go. Time, however, is running out.