The issue: The right of citizens to petition for legislation
Our view: An important right that should be protected
Opponents of wind farm projects presented the Stephenson County Board a petition signed by 1,800 landowners last week, citing a little-used state law that empowers citizens to change how legislation is approved by the county board, by petition.
Statutes dictate that validated signatures representing 5 percent of the landowners in a county can require a “super majority,” or three-fourths approval on legislation being considered by the board.
In this case, wind farm opponents sought to petition the county board to prevent it from adopting a revision to the zoning ordinance that changes permitted uses for land in the prime agriculture category.
County officials put the petition aside, and after further consideration, discussion turned to whether the exact number of landowners in Stephenson County could be determined.
Land ownership can be confused by trusts, marital status, estate holdings and other legal “tools.”
Regardless of your opinion on wind farms, preserving the right of citizens to initiate action through petition is a vital right in our democratic system of government.
In such cases when an electorate is unable to find sufficient consideration for its opinion through its elected representatives, the opportunity to prompt action through independent petition is a viable alternative.
State statutes do not make the process easy, which in itself is a guarantee that petitioning will only be an option if and when a significant number of landowners feel the same on any particular issue.
To that end, it is important that county officials determine the number of landowners in Stephenson County, and thereby determine the number of valid signatures needed to protect the right of citizens to initiate legislation by petition.
Unfortunately, the process will cost time and money to accomplish. And considering the contentious debate on wind farms, it is unlikely that a majority of county board members would support an effort to determine how many people own land in Stephenson County at this time. This, regardless of the stated objective of the State’s Attorneys office to look into the issue.
That leaves two alternatives.
Opponents of wind farms can get involved and either pursue the question through the courts or seek to independently verify the number of county property owners.
These options cost money from people who are supposed to be represented and already pay taxes for this information.
Or, the state can play a role and mandate that counties in Illinois are required to know how many landowners are within the boundaries of the county jurisdiction.
State involvement, though less desirable in most cases, may be the best and most logical alternative in this case.
Especially when the motivation of the elected officials who are being petitioned, is considered.
21 July 2007
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