More than 130 people attended the Wheatland Township annual town meeting Tuesday, where a vote was made to stop all action on a proposed $1.5 million town hall until township officials can provide more details.
The issue will be discussed again at a special, as-yet-unscheduled town meeting. Because electors voted to hold that meeting, they will have the authority to action on the issue.
Opposition to the new building, proposed for a site at 4232 Tower Court in Naperville, has been building in recent weeks. But the issue is not a new one -- it's been the topic of several town meetings since 2004.
Some residents of the township, which encompasses parts of the village of Plainfield and the city of Naperville, believe it would be less expensive to lease or purchase an existing building or to renovate the existing township building at 31W236 91st St. in Naperville than to build new.
Tuesday's meeting was an exercise in parliamentary procedure.
In the end, Debra Holscher, of Naperville, put together an impromptu coalition of 17 people to sign a petition calling for a future special meeting on the subject of the new building.
Holscher made a motion to halt all proceedings and expenditures on the project until officials complete a detailed needs-assessment analysis, including price tags on the cost of leasing or buying an existing building. The motion carried 62-24.
“We’re going to know what we’re going to be held responsible for, unlike what happened in 2004,” Holscher said.
At the 2004 annual town meeting, electors voted 18-2 to give the township board “authority to purchase property and/or partner with local government and/or other entity to build a new township facility.”
Supporters of the new building, including township Supervisor Todd Morse and trustees Frank King and Doug Haddad, launched Tuesday's meeting by telling voters that a decision to build a new town hall was a done deal and that the design plans are to go before the Naperville Plan Commission next month.
“Everybody thinks we’re here to vote on whether to do the new building or not,” King said. “That vote has already been taken.”
There was a problem with the wording of the new building agenda item requested by 55 petitioners, according to King and township attorney Keri-Lynn Krafthefer, of the law firm Ancel Glink.
The agenda item in question read, “Discussion and potential action on the lease or purchase of an existing building for township space.” Because it said nothing about a new building, Krafthefer said, electors at the meeting could not vote on that topic.
In 2008, the township board followed the direction of electors at the 2004 annual town meeting and purchased land for a new building from the city of Naperville for $350,000. However, a special town board meeting was held in September 2010 to discuss the purchase an existing building at 3440 Lacrosse Lane in Naperville. One month later, at another special town board meeting, electors voted 19-15 to not purchase that property.
“There is nothing on the agenda related to current plans for a town hall,” Krafthefer said. “Voters cannot undo the previous three votes electors took on a new township hall.”
But there was an undeniable will to do just that. Holscher passed her petition, collecting on the spot two more than the 15 signatures needed to call a special town meeting. Her motion carried.
Many Wheatland Township voters in attendance at the Tuesday meeting said the issue should be revisited because the economy has shift since the decision to build new was made seven years ago.
“There’s been a dramatic change,” said Ron Plonis, of Naperville. “How can we be sure of our decision when it is a completely different world today? What has been done to re-think this decision, to be sure it is still a good decision today?”
Most agreed the township needs a new building. Mold problems are causing a threat to township employees' health, officials said.
“Wouldn’t you say it’s good news if we are able to build a new township building without raising taxes with money we already have?” Trustee Haddad asked.
Plainfield Township Highway Commissioner Dayton Jarnagin said he has not seen such a large turnout for the annual town meeting in 35 years.
“It’s our township. It’s our meeting. It’s our money,” said Chuck Miller, of Plainfield.
Morse and King declined to comment on the outcome of the meeting.
Some voters expressed reservations about having Ancel Glink attorneys frame the wording of the new agenda item for the next special meeting. The law firm has been criticized by some for co-sponsoring a fundraising event for Morse.
“I think we may need to get our own attorney,” Holscher said.