Local Government

McHenry County road districts name Pritzker as defendant in township elimination lawsuit

McHenry and Nunda Township Road District officials have named Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker in a lawsuit challenging a decision to afford voters to right to eliminate townships.

Pritzker signed a law in August allowing McHenry County voters to dissolve the area's 17 townships through referendum. The new law is an initiative to reduce property taxes in McHenry County by reducing levels of government. If a township is dissolved, its operations, property and employees would be transferred to the county government. The option to eliminate both McHenry and Nunda Townships will appear on the March ballot, but the townships road districts' officials have questioned whether the law is constitutional.

Road district officials challenged the new law in a lawsuit filed Sept. 16 against McHenry County. The lawsuit was dismissed on Dec. 24, but refiled on Jan. 21, this time with Pritzker listed as a defendant, along with McHenry County.

Soon after, McHenry County Assistant State's Attorney George Hoffman filed a request to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the county "would be merely a passive recipient" of the townships' duties in the event of elimination. Hoffman further claimed that even if the county was a proper defendant in the matter, the civil complaint wouldn't hold up, since the law is constitutional.

“It is not at all clear why plaintiffs chose to name the county as the defendant in this action," Hoffman wrote. "The county did not enact the amendment to the township code at issue. Plaintiffs do not allege that the county has taken any steps towards initiating a referendum, which, under the statute, only a township’s electors or trustees may initiate."

A hearing on the county's request is scheduled for 10 a.m. March 10 at the McHenry County Courthouse in Woodstock.

The original suit filed by the road districts' of McHenry and Nunda townships claimed that the new law violates a section of the Illinois constitution regarding special legislation, which states that the General Assembly shall pass no special or local law when a general law is or can be made applicable.

McHenry Township Highway Commissioner James Condon agreed that the law's specificity to McHenry County means that it is "special legislation," and therefore in violation of the Illinois constitution.

"It's our understanding that the constitution doesn't allow you to write a law that is specific to one group when that same law can be applied to all groups, in other words, to the whole state," Condon said. "And the law they wrote, they apply only to McHenry County. So they're singling McHenry County out."

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, introduced the bill, which was signed into law in August. Reached by phone Friday, McSweeney wasn't concerned about the road districts' amended lawsuit, calling it "a complete waste of time."

"It's a scandal and the voters in these townships now have the choice to eliminate these useless layers of government," McSweeney said.

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