Joliet group keeps pushing for 8-district vote on ballot
Brock A. Stein | 8/10/2016, 10:04 a.m.
A group of concerned residents in Joliet hope to once again get an initiative on the November ballot that will change the structure of the city council.
Concerned Citizens of Joliet, a grass-roots organization, submitted over 4,000 signatures to the Joliet City Clerk’s office on Monday in an effort to change the council from its current form of 5 district representatives and 3 at-large members to 8 districts each with their own representative.
The group last attempted to get the measure before voters on the ballot in 2014 but a board of elections committee struck about 300 of their signatures from the rolls as invalid. Which didn’t give the group enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
This time they hope they have enough to allow the will of the people to be heard said Maria Aracelia Rosas-Urbano who chairs the group.
Rosas-Urbano said that the group turned in about 2300 signatures last time around and that getting the signatures for this second round has helped the group get a better sense of how the residents of the city feel about the issue.
“We feel that the people spoke and that they want this on the ballot,” she said.
The group argues that having all council members elected who live in each of the districts will make them more responsive to the needs of their constituents and more attune to what is happening where they live.
With Joliet’s population at 147,433, according to the 2010 census, the city’s 5 districts and their council members represent just over 29,000 residents under the current model.
By requiring all of the seats including the three at-large council seats to be occupied by representatives who live in their respective districts each member would cover a population of just over 18,000.
With the current format for the council seats, representatives live within a few miles of each other, clustered within a 17 mile area near the center of the city.
Two of the council’s three at-large members live within District 2 and the other in District 3. No representatives live west of Essington Road or in the far west suburban area that can stretch into parts of Kendall County.
In a press release from the group, they refer to a 2015 report from the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, that states “ at-large systems create severe underrepresentation of people of color, unfair distribution of public resources, voter suppression, and unjust hiring practices of public employees.”
Father Raymond Lescher, part of the Concern Citizens group, community activist and retired pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Joliet, said that the 8-district plan will create a more equitable distribution of representatives across the entire city. He said having representatives live in the districts they represent will also make them more visible and approachable.
“They’ll fight for the needs of the community and the area where they live,” said Lescher.
With 6 of the 9 elected officials, including the mayor, living in the Cathedral area of the city, he said it creates an unfair advantage for the people who live near the city council members.
“Who do you think gets their pot holes filled first,” said Lescher.
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