By Nona Tepper
Three questions have already been submitted for the March 2018 ballot, potentially blocking — for the second time — a local group's quest to register resident opinion on video gaming.
"It's a David-and-Goliath kind of thing," said Jordan Kuehn, president of Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming. Bar owners "have money to hire a very skilled lawyer, as they did last time. They hired a very expensive, very skilled lawyer. We are just a handful of people. We have some money, but not that kind of money."
Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming, a political action committee comprising about 15 local residents, seeks to get a vote on the question, "Shall video gaming be prohibited in the village of Forest Park?" It is a binding referendum, which means that if the majority of people disapprove of the practice, video gaming would be outlawed in the village. Let Forest Park Vote collected about 3,500 petition signatures and submitted the names to the village on Dec. 18, the last day to submit items for the March 2018 ballot.
They discovered then that three advisory questions were submitted in November 2016 by Mark Hosty, a former village commissioner and former Forest Park resident who manages Healy's Westside, for the 2018 election. He also submitted three different questions at that time for the 2017 ballot, which prevented an anti-gaming referendum from being voted on. Only three questions are allowed on each ballot, according to state law.
"The only reason we circulated those six petitions is because they started going after another petition to ban something without seeing how it did," Hosty said in a recent interview. He also questioned the validity of Let Forest Park Vote's petition signatures.
Meanwhile, Let Forest Park Vote has questioned the timeliness of Hosty's upcoming questions, only one of which addresses electronic gambling. The state's 2017 local election official's handbook is vague about the time frame on submitted questions.
Still, "there's some question as to how long they can remain valid to go on to the next ballot," Kuehn said of Hosty's question, adding: It's "a matter of legal interpretation; our lawyer says those should not be on the ballot."
The Cook County Clerk must now complete a signature review of Let Forest Park Vote's names, deciding if the petitions are valid. That examination has not yet been scheduled, and the two groups will not reconvene for another hearing until after the records exam is complete. A spokesman for the county clerk said they hoped to have the signature review complete by Jan. 21.
If Let Forest Park Vote's signatures prove valid, lawyers from each side will then battle to decide whether or not Hosty's questions are timely enough to be debated on the March 2018 ballot. The Cook County Clerk said Hosty's 2016 questions — if valid — would block Let Forest Park Vote's video gaming question off the ballot. Kuehn said his group's question would then move to the November ballot, provided there's room. Kuehn said so far no one has filed questions for that ballot.
Hosty, who recently moved to River Forest, said he filed a Freedom of Information Act to the village after Let Forest Park Vote submitted their petition to get a copy of their signatures. He then entered each name and address into an excel spreadsheet and cross referenced their signatures and homes listed to see if there were duplicates.
"It wasn't a simple program to write," Hosty said. "I'm a very determined person."
He said he found at least 475 people who signed the petition at least twice, some of them four times. In a letter to the Forest Park Review editor, he said he found more than 975 signatures not registered, not at the address listed, not alive, or not listed in Forest Park. Hosty said he knows some of these people have died because he attended their funerals.
"You're not just right because you have the moral high ground," Hosty said of Let Forest Park Vote's efforts, adding: "I think those who complain about how we did it are just complaining because we did it better. We got six questions on the ballot in a day. They failed."
Let Forest Park Vote is represented by attorney Ed Mullen. James Nally is representing pro-gaming forces. Nally was hired by James Watts, owner of O'Sullivan's Public House.