Originally Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2014, 6:07 pm
Last Updated: Aug. 11, 2014, 6:08 pm

Madigan: RI County board size changes can be made now

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By Tyler Langan, tlangan@qconline.com

ROCK ISLAND -- The size of the Rock Island County Board can be changed without waiting for the next federal Census in 2020, according to the Illinois Attorney General's office.

Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee told the board's Governmental Affairs Committee on Monday that a letter from Senior Assistant Attorney General Lynn E. Patton said a Constitutional provision granting counties the right to change methods of choosing board members outweighs a state statute providing the changes can be made only every 10 years, in the wake of the Census.

The board has 25 members, elected from single-member districts.Various proposals for reducing the size have been discussed, but none have gotten any traction in the face of the law providing changes can come only every 10 years.

Now, with the attorney general's office saying waiting isn't necessary, the first step toward changing the number of board members would be the board proposing it to voters in a binding referendum, according to Drue Mielke, R-Coal Valley, who was among board members who sought an opinion on the issue.

Mr. McGehee said simply cutting the number of board members would not constitute a change in the county's method of electing board members, so any proposal should any change would involve creating multiple-member districts.

Mr. McGehee said he will find out if the referendum must run on a general election ballot or if it can be conducted during a primary election. No action to alter the size of the board was taken during the committee meeting.

Board member Scott Terry, who has proposed dropping 10 of the 25 members, said he needs to talk with his constituents to see if they support reducing the size of the board by creating multiple-member districts.

"I think what people want is a smaller board but to retain a single member district," Mr. Terry said. "I'm going to listen to my constituents and see what they have to say about that."

Mr. Mielke said he's been a champion for reducing the size of the board since he ran in for the county board in 2012. He is glad to see the issue gaining traction.

In an advisory referendum in 2012, Rock Island County voters, by a 9,276-4,958 margingsaid they favor changing to a system with five districts, with each district choosing three board members.

"I would work with someone if my district was larger, and I had a democrat elected with me. I would think it was a good thing," Mr. Mielke said. "I work with Scott Terry — he's a Democrat. I work with him whenever I can. We don't agree on everything."