‘A Seat at the Council’ Former Gov. Quinn gives tips on how citizens can create their own ordinances

‘A Seat at the Council’ Former Gov. Quinn gives tips on how citizens can create  their own ordinances

By Bob Seidenberg

Jillian Gilburne is a student at Northwestern  University, where  one of her favorite  classes  is on  civic engagement and  public participation.

She took a short  trip off campus  on Wednesday night, joining about 25 other residents, a number of them veteran Evanston activists,  at a real life application of those principals in the Parasol Room at the city’s Morton Civic Center.

Former Governor Pat Quinn dispensed advice on how residents can draw up their own ordinances in a stop in Evanston earlier in the year.

Former  Illinois Governor  Pat Quinn, at the invitation  of  Evanston City Clerk Devon Reid, spoke at the session, tantalizingly titled  “Your Seat on the Council,” about how citizens could place legislation into law via a petition process that  would eventually go to the City Council.

Under the voter initiative, citizens could seek to place a question on the ballot, as soon as the 2020 Illinois March primary election, asking voters:  “Shall  the people of the City of Evanston provide for a voter petition and referendum process for the consideration and passage of city ordinances as follows?”

The petition then goes on to explain the process which starts with a minimum of  25 citizens approaching the Clerk and informing him of an ordinance they would like to see go to aldermen.

At the meeting, several times referring to  Evanston citizens effort to get an advisory referendum on the Harley Clarke mansion on the ballot, Quinn said he’s a long believer  in the initiative and referendum process.
In this case, “I guess what I’m talking about is  giving people in Evanston the right by petitions and referendums to enact binding  ordinances,” he said.

“They often call the people through initiative the Fourth Branch of Government,” said Quinn, a Northwestern University Law School graduate. “You have the courts, you’ve got the legislature, you’ve got the executive branch, but our country invented the idea of initiative. It was something that comes up from the people, everyday people, banding together , using the power of petition to put issues on the ballot that they get to vote on.”

For example, “the whole movement for a fifteen dollar  minimum wage began as a voter initiative in the city of Seattle almost ten years ago,”  he said. “The people of Seattle petitioned it, put it on the ballot and they passed it. And at the time people said fifteen dollar minimum wage…it  just spread like wildfire across America. Sometimes the intiative process is where new ideas come up and they bubble up from the grassroots.”

To  get the referendum on  the ballot, citizens would first have to obtain a minimum of  2,800 signatures,  roughly 8 percent of the votes cast in Evanston for  candidates in the  2018 Gubernatorial  election.

The timetable would be to have the request  submitted  by Dec. 16, for it to  appear on the March 2020  ballot, explained  Reid.

If the referendum passed,  it would become law immediately and” folks could begin utilizing this initiative system,” explained  Reid.

From there, with at least 25 citizens circulating a petition to request an ordinance to be drafted, the Clerk’s Office would cause the proposal to be drafted into ordinance form.

The Clerk would  also  create  a summary of that ordinance, which citizens could use on a petition for another referendum, also  requiring around 2,800 signatures, to get the proposal before  the council.

Aldermen  still have the options to not act on the ordinance, so long as they operate within a specified time frame. But they may risk “political payback,” where  an ordinance had such strong citizen support,  said Reid, in response  to a question at the meeting.

So the process involves “a referendum to make this law, and  then it creates a referendum system you could make any ordinance binding,” Reid explained. “Because right now residents have a very limited ope of things they can put on the ballot as binding referendum.”

 During the nearly one and half hour session, many of the audience questions dealt with process. Gilburne was among them, citing her state of Arizona and citizen initiatives there.

From her class, her  feeling is that  it’s not enough to  just say that the government is open.  She said more is needed  to ensure that practice “and I  think petitioning is a really good way to do that.

Her teacher at Northwestern, Jerome  Stermer, served as chief of  staff under Quinn, “and  always said amazing things  about him. So the fact that  it was  him, with such clout in Illinois politics, advocating  for something that is just so grassroots, I just think is incredible.”

Quinn has used the referendum process throughout his career as a populist  issues, starting in his early days as the founder of the Coalition for Political Honesty, where he took on  the utility companies. More recently, he has been pushing on placing a referendum on term limits in Chicago on the ballot.

Several times referring to Evanston citizens effort to get an advisory referendum on the Harley Clarke mansion on the ballot, Quinn said he’s a long believer  in the initiative and referendum process.
in this case, “I guess what I’m talking about is  giving people in Evanston the right by petitions and referendums to enact binding  ordinances. They often call the people through initiative the Fourth Branch of Government. You have the courts, you’ve got the legislature, you’ve got the executive branch, but our country invented the idea of initiative. It was something that comes up from the people, every day people, banding together  using the power of petition to put issues on the ballot that they get to vote on.”

In Seattle, for example, “the whole movement for a $15 minimum wage began as a voter initiative in the city of Seattle almost ten years ago. The people of Seattle petitioned it, put it on the ballot and they passed it. And at the time people said $15 minimum wage..it  just spread like wildfire across America. Sometimes the intiative process is where new ideas come up and they bubble up from the grassroots.” During the nearly one and half hour session, many of the audience questions dealt with process. Gilburne was among them, citing her state of Arizona and citizen initiatives there.

From her class, her  feeling is that  it’s not enough to  just say that the government is open.  She said more is needed  to ensure that practice “and I  think petitioning is a really good way to do that.

Her teacher at Northwestern, Jerome  Stermer, served as chief of  staff under Quinn, “and  always said amazing things  about him. So the fact that  it was  him, with such clout in Illinois politics, advocating  for something that is just so grassroots, I just think is incredible.”

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