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Orland Board candidates dropped from ballot

Orland Board candidates dropped

Attorney Burt Odelson shows an example of the election petition his client objected to during a hearing of the Orland Park Municipal Officers’ Electoral Board last Thursday at the Orland Park Civic Center. Observing (from left) are Deputy Village Clerk Casey Griffin, attorney Scott Uhler, and Election Board members village Trustee Kathy Fenton and Village Clerk John Mehalek. Photo by Dermot Connolly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appeals already underway

By Dermot Connolly

Three Orland Park village trustee candidates are appealing the local electoral board decision to remove them from April 2 ballots, a decision based on a lack of specificity in their nominating petitions.

At a Municipal Officers’ Electoral Board hearing last Thursday in the Orland Park Civic Center, attorney Burt Odelson representing objector Christopher Kasmer, argued that nominating petitions signed by more than 1,200 people for the People Over Politics slate should be thrown out because they stated the office the candidates were seeking as “trustee,” rather than “village trustee.”

Odelson cited state election law and legal precedent, which he said clearly states that nominating petitions must include the candidate’s name, residence, party if there is any, and the office the candidate is seeking. He said the issue is especially important in the April 2 municipal election, because Orland Park residents will also be voting for Orland Park Library Board trustees and Orland Fire Protection District trustees.

“You have to have those three things. You have to tell the people what office you are running for. The penalty for not doing so is not counting any of the signatures. It can be difficult at times, because a lot of people signed those petitions. But it is mature, seasoned law,” said Odelson.

He wrapped up his argument with an opinion piece co-authored by attorney Scott Uhler for Illinois school board members, which stressed the same points for getting on ballots. Uhler happened to be serving as legal counsel for the board at the hearing.

Attorney John Fogarty Jr., representing candidates William Healy, Cynthia Nelson Katsenes and Michael Milani, argued that leaving out “village” was “insignificant” and the “manufactured argument” should not keep the three candidates off ballots.

“Public policy of the state of Illinois is unquestionably to favor ballot access. We don’t like insignificant errors invalidating someone‘s right to run for office or petition someone to run for office. Statutes that would be used to invalidate a candidacy, I think the Supreme Court would counsel you not to invalidate these candidacies,” said Fogarty, addressing the board made up of Village Clerk John Mehalek and village Trustee Kathy Fenton.

Prior to the hearing, Mayor Keith Pekau had recused himself from the board citing a conflict because he circulated petitions for the People Over Politics slate. His replacement, Trustee Jim Dodge, said he had work commitment and was not available.

Mehalek said before he and Fenton voted to strike the names from ballots, that although the rest of their paperwork had the correct information, the petition is the only document the people see. “As someone who has worked on both sides of this, as a candidate and petitioner, voter confusion is not only possible, but more likely probable. (Collecting signatures) is a very fast process. It is incumbent on the petition to state what office is sought.”

“What it comes down to is the law is the law. Because the possibility of confusion is there,” Fenton said she agreed with Mehalek, and after consulting with Uhler, they voted to uphold the objection.

Fogarty said immediately afterward that he would be filing an appeal with the Cook County Circuit Court by Tuesday. “The Cook County courts know that time is fleeting so I would expect a decision soon,” he said.

If the appeal is not successful, the Orland Integrity Party led by incumbent Trustee Carole Griffin Ruzich with new candidates Kelly O’Brien and Devin Hodge, will run unopposed on April 2 because the same electoral board struck an independent candidate from ballots for not having enough signatures.

The Orland Integrity Party issued statements in support of the decision, while the People Over Politics candidates stated that the decision was a “political charade” made by a “sham election board comprised of two people supporting our opponents.”

“If their intention was to run for village trustee, their petitions should have stated that clearly,” Ruzich said. “Part of being qualified to run is having the competence to get on the ballot. It is a fact that these candidates did a poor job executing this task and they will not be on the ballot as a result.”

The People Over Politics statement accused Mehalek and Fenton of choosing “politics over people and the desires of the 1,200-plus people who signed our petitions.” They also said both board members circulated petitions for the opposing slate and should have recused themselves. While their signatures were not evident on any of the nominating petitions that a reporter received through the clerk’s office, copies of several other petition sheets did have Melalek’s name and signature recorded as petitioner, and one had Fenton’s.

 

Mehalek said he would not comment beyond a statement issued after the hearing that said state law made the decision necessary. “I will continue to support and encourage people to seek public office, become involved in their communities and in doing so it remains important to follow the rules which are clearly presented,” he concluded.

“I think the local election board got it wrong, and we will see how the legal process will play out,” said Pekau, who described as “fact” the charge of collecting petitions for the opposition.

“This is not exactly rocket science here. The first step to getting on the ballot is to get the petition process right. The Election Board made the right decision upholding petition standards,” said O’Brien in her statement.

“There were probably some people who signed these petitions who had no idea what office these candidates are seeking,” said Hodge, citing the other trustee races.

He and O’Brien are seeking the seats being left open by retiring trustees Mike Carroll and Patricia Gira, both of whom came to the hearing.

“I’m mainly here to observe as an attorney. But I agree with what John (Mehalek) said. There is a probability of confusion because people often don’t know that we are separate from the library and fire protection boards,” said Carroll.

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