There will be no referendum dealing with video gambling on the November election ballot in Forest Park.
At Thursday’s Forest Park Electoral Board meeting, the three-member board voted unanimously against putting a binding referendum on the ballot, citing mainly that those who solicited the petitions fell short of the required number of signatures after being challenged. The members of the electoral board are: Mayor Anthony Calderone, Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz and Village Commissioner Tom Mannix.
The electoral board was brought in to make a decision on the referendum issue after the signatures on the petition were officially challenged shortly after they were filed with the village clerk on Aug. 8. The electoral board meeting started at 10 a.m. at Forest Park Village Hall and went on for hours, late into the afternoon, with lawyers representing both sides explaining their views on the issues and citing past legal cases to back up their arguments.
Attorney Adam Lasker of Ancel Glink Diamond Bush DiCianni and Krafthefer represented Patrick Jacknow and fellow supporters who solicited signatures for the petition to get the referendum on the ballot. Burt Odelson, of Odelson and Sterk, represented John Hosty, who challenged the petition.
Lasker told the electoral board that the referendum should be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot, citing “Estoppel” a legal term which means an impediment or obstruction that precludes a person from asserting a fact or a right, or prevents one from denying a fact. Such a hindrance is due to a person’s actions, conduct, statements, admission, or failure to act or the judgment against the person in an identical legal case.
Lasker said Jacknow followed the rules of the Cook County Clerk’s Office on how many signatures from registered voters in the village were needed to get the binding referendum on the ballot. He said they had more than enough signatures at the time of filing and regardless of the challenge, they did what was required.
“It is an injustice if you hold it against us,” he said to the members of the board. “We have fulfilled all the elements for an ‘Estoppel’ and it should be granted.”
He said not having the referendum on the ballot hurts the village and its residents.
“Every resident who is a registered voter will be disenfranchised,” he said. “The injustice is substantial if this is left off the ballot.”
Odelson’s argument to the board was that Jacknow and others soliciting signatures should have been more prepared to get enough signatures to survive a challenge and if you don’t have enough, you lose.
“We have a statute that is not ambiguous; it’s clear,” he said.
Jacknow was called as a witness during the deliberations and, when questioned by Odelson, brought up the fact that he is registered to vote at the address where he grew up and not where he currently lives. Odelson questioned Jacknow’s intentions in terms of doing all that was required to get registered voters to sign the petitions.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “You’re either registered or you’re not.”
Calderone commented that the conventional wisdom is three times the number of signatures are needed in order to withstand a challenge.
According to the Cook County Clerk’s Office, petition signatures need to be for “active” registered voters, i.e. those who voted in the previous election. The number of “inactive” registered voters dropped them below the minimum required for a binding referendum.
In the end, Forest Park Village Attorney Tom Bastian, advised the electoral board to vote on three motions leaving the referendum off the November ballot because the doctrine of “Estopel” did not apply. The votes were unanimous on the motions and the meeting was recessed at 3:27 p.m.
The meeting is scheduled to reconvene at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 13, to make those votes official, at which time printed versions of the passed motions will be made available.
Bastian said he found it hard to believe that Jacknow and his supporters didn’t know that “active” registered voters (i.e. those who voted in the previous election) were required on the petition.
Jacknow, who was at the meeting, did not comment initially, but his attorney said they will discuss possible options which may include appealing the decision. They will have five days to do so after the Sept. 13 meeting.
“The real decision is whether to spend money to fight an appeal or recirculating for the spring election,” Lasker said.
Later Jacknow said they have decided to do the latter and will work to put the referendum on the ballot in the spring of 2017.
“We are not going to quit,” he said. “We will be recirculating for the spring election. Now I know what to do, and it will not be an issue the next time around.”
Martin Sorice, who owns several restaurant/bars in Forest Park and who is in favor of video gambling, attended the meeting and said the board’s ruling went the right way. He is one of many bar and restaurant owners in Forest Park who would like to see video gambling in the village and are determined to make it happen.
“[The businesses] will have to prove to the town that we should get it,” he said. “This is far from over.”