Discussing referendums asking if Collinsville officials should resign
Petitions calling for the resignation of the Collinsville mayor and a city councilwoman are now headed to court in Madison County.
Rob Dorman, of Collinsville, filed petitions to place two questions on the ballot for Collinsville residents this November. The first asked: “Should John Miller resign as the Collinsville City Mayor?” The second asked, “Should Cheryl Brombolich resign from the Collinsville City Council?”
The petitions were turned in to place the questions on the ballot as advisory referendums, meaning the result of the vote would not be binding. The petitions were challenged and went before the city Electoral Board, which threw them out.
Now, Dorman is appealing that decision, claiming that, among other things, Miller was a member of the three-person board and should have recused himself. A hearing on Dorman’s appeal is set for Friday in Madison County Circuit Court.
“I filed it because I live in Collinsville and we have some politicians that are in denial, who actually think the residents are happy with what’s going on,” Dorman said. “They think it’s just a handful of malcontents. … It’s obvious they don’t care for the residents’ wishes.”
Dorman said he wanted to give city leaders a wake-up call. He believes he has a strong backing in voters who are unhappy with a recent utility tax increase, the firing of former city manager Scott Williams, and what he called “front-page scandals” involving the mayor and Brombolich.
Brombolich and Miller both declined to comment. Miller said he was not comfortable talking about the subject because it is subject to pending litigation.
A spokesman for the Illinois attorney general’s office said that it did not appear that the state statutes would have permitted a recall of Miller and Brombolich instead of seeking a non-binding referendum.
Brombolich filed an objection to the petitions, which went before the municipal Electoral Board on Aug. 19. The Electoral Board consists of the mayor, one city councilman and the city clerk. Miller did not recuse himself from the board. The councilman was Nancy Moss, who has publicly criticized the mayor and councilwoman on some of the recent controversies. City Clerk Kim Wasser was the third member of the panel, which was chaired by council attorney Steve Giacoletto.
Brombolich stated in her objection that neither petition contained a sufficient number signatures to be sustained; that some signatures on the Miller petition included signatures asking for Brombolich’s resignation and should be discounted; that some signatures came from people who are not registered to vote in Collinsville, and that the questions were not proper public policy questions for a referendum.
On each objection, Miller and Wasser voted against Dorman’s petitions, and Moss voted in favor of them. In a 2-1 vote, then, the petitions were thrown out, with Moss dissenting.
Moss said she dissented because she felt Brombolich had not provided sufficient evidence to bolster her objections.
“I heard statements and saw exhibits from Mr. Dorman that quoted state statutes, and I didn’t see any evidence or was given any rebuttal to those things at that hearing,” Moss said. “I was focused at that point on whether or not the objection was a valid objection. … Did the petition meet the standards or not? There was no evidence presented by (Brombolich) to show that it wasn’t.”
Moss said she was also concerned by allegations that Dorman was not properly served with notice of the objection. Dorman said he was served less than 48 hours before the Electoral Board hearing, and not by a deputy or registered mail as he said is required by law.
“I didn’t hear anything from the objector’s side or evidence from the city that disproved that,” Moss said.
I filed it (the appeal) because I live in Collinsville and we have some politicians that are in denial, who actually think the residents are happy with what’s going on. They think it’s just a handful of malcontents. … It’s obvious they don’t care for the residents’ wishes.
Collinsville resident Rob Dorman
Dorman has based his appeal for judicial review on the grounds that Miller should have recused himself for a conflict of interest; that Giacoletto should not have chaired the board as he represents Brombolich through her service on the City Council; that the hearing was not properly announced under the Open Meetings Act, and that he was not notified of the hearing in a timely fashion, among other objections.
In all, he had 13 objections to the way his petitions were handled.
“As far as I’m concerned, they didn’t do anything right,” he said. “I think the mayor is oblivious to what’s going on. … I think people ought to have the opportunity to say whether they like what you’re doing.”
Miller had been criticized for accepting free topsoil at his home from a city contractor, whom he later paid. Brombolich had already been asked to resign by Moss and another councilman after the city released documents showing that when Brombolich was a city employee, she tried to avoid disclosure of her personal use of a tax-free city account and credit card. She later said it was a mistake and that she wanted to inform her boss about it first, rather than have another employee do so. She resigned her position, and then was elected to the city council in April 2015.
As far as whether it’s an appropriate question for a non-binding referendum, Dorman disagreed with Brombolich. “That’s Cheryl Brombolich’s opinion, and apparently her opinion is that she can take public money for personal reasons,” he said.
Moss said she looked forward to the results of the appeal. “The judicial review should clear up the validity of the objection and whether or not the petition should go on the ballot,” she said.
Moss declined to comment on whether Miller should have recused himself from the Electoral Board. The Illinois Attorney General’s office said that they had not issued any opinions that would clarify whether that would have been required.
Moss also declined to comment on the general atmosphere surrounding the City Council, which has been wracked by controversy in recent months.
The Belleville News-Democrat had requested city financial and credit card documents and was initially denied by the city, which fought for eight months to prevent their release. But Madison County Associate Judge Don Flack ruled that the documents were public records and should be released.
Dorman’s appeal is also set before Flack.
The documents showed that Brombolich routinely used city credit cards and tax-free accounts for personal purchases. In some cases, she reported the purchases to the city; in others, the city discovered them months or years later. Brombolich repaid all the money, officials said.
Brombolich has since filed a federal lawsuit against the city stating that she was embarrassed and “presented in a false light” by the document release. She included in the suit former councilman Mike Tognarelli and the former city manager Williams. Williams was the supervisor who compiled a file regarding Brombolich’s personal use of city credit cards.
After she was elected to the City Council last year, Brombolich and Miller were two of three votes to fire Williams, joined by Councilman Jeff Stehman.
A year after his firing, Williams filed a lawsuit against the city, Miller, Brombolich and Stehman under the Illinois Whistleblower Act. His suit alleges that the officials retaliated against him after he disclosed the mayor’s topsoil gift and Brombolich’s use of city credit cards. That suit is also pending.
Madison County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza said she has to know by Sept. 29 which names will be on the ballot. That is the first day she can send out mail-in ballots and that absentee voting begins.
“We have flexibility because we print the ballots in-house,” she said. It only takes a couple of days of test runs to change the names, she said. In the meantime, she’s planning the ballots as they currently stand: without the referendum.
“We have to keep moving forward,” she said.