Metro-East News

What’s an ‘M’ municipal plate doing on a Mercedes registered to McKendree University?

A 2003 Mercedes assigned to McKendree University President James Dennis has municipal license plates.
A 2003 Mercedes assigned to McKendree University President James Dennis has municipal license plates. gpawlaczyk@bnd.com

Illinois “M” license plates are automatically renewed each year without cost and are supposed to be used only on public vehicles like police cars, school buses and city trucks.

So why does McKendree University president’s Mercedes-Benz E 320 sport the plate number “M 191698?”

Finding the exact answer as to how a private university got the plates has so far eluded officials at the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. They responded to a News-Democrat inquiry about the matter by launching a statewide “administrative review” to see how many other private universities use the municipal plates.

“We are going to undertake an administrative review to determine what other private schools might have the plates,” said Dave Druker, communications director for Secretary of State Jesse White.

“If it’s a private school, they should not have the plates,” Druker said.

Sally Mayhew, vice president for administration and finance for McKendree University, said McKendree will change its license plates if required by the state.

We are going to undertake an administrative review to determine what other private schools might have the plates. If it’s a private school, they should not have the plates.

Dave Druker, communications director for Secretary of State Jesse White

A BND reader sent the newspaper a photo of the Mercedes license plate along with a question of why a luxury car should have this designation.

McKendree has 40 vehicles registered with “M” license plates and have had them for years, Mayhew said. Most are police cars and vans but university President James Dennis’ 2003 Mercedes, which Mayhew said was donated, is an official school vehicle and has an “M” plate. If the school had to pay to renew the plates each year, it would cost about $4,000 to $5,000 for the fleet.

The question about the use of the plates by a private organization comes at the same time that a new law regarding municipal plates, pushed by the Secretary of State, has passed through the General Assembly and has been sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner for his signature. This bill doesn’t reference private use but does make it easier for school districts to register vehicles that are for public use.

“I don’t know where or how it started,” said Mayhew, who added that for the 16 years she has been employed at McKendree, the plates have always been used on school vehicles. “If the law changes, we’ll adapt to it.”

I don’t know where or how it started. If the law changes, we’ll adapt to it.

Sally Mayhew, vice president for administration and finance for McKendree University

Beth Kaufman, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, said researchers at the department were unable to track down paperwork stating how or when McKendree came to use the municipal plates.

“We don’t know how or why they were given to a private university, but that will no longer be the case,” Kaufman said.

Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said he was asked by the state to sponsor a bill making it clearer who is allowed to use an “M” plate. He said he did not know that a private university in St. Clair County had the plates.

“There was a concern about whether a school district could use the plates on an activity bus, and this clears that up,” said Cunningham. “It just makes it easier for a school district.”

A BND check of private universities turned up none that are using municipal plates. The schools that were checked are Lindenwood University-Belleville, University of Chicago, Northwestern University and Illinois Wesleyan University.

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk

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