By JACK ANDERSON
For Rantoul Press
More than 500 Rantoul voters signed a petition to place a question on the November ballot allowing the voters a choice to decide, "Shall the village be divided into six districts with one trustee elected from each district?" This is commonly referred to as "districting," where trustees are elected only by those voters who live within and are familiar with the unique characteristics of a particular district.
The Aug. 14, 2018, Rantoul Press guest commentary by Jim Cheek, "Voters will decide our fate," offered what I kindly refer to as a mischaracterization of districting. Cheek is a Rantoul and Chanute Air Force Base historian with a passion for the past; however, districting is about our future.
As a seeming scare tactic Cheek suggests, "…candidates would run to represent only their district," and, "…may or may not have the interest of the entire village in mind…" Throughout the state there are locally elected municipal representatives of districts and wards successfully representing their entire cities and villages.
Majority rule acts as a safeguard. One trustee cannot corrupt a board.
Next Cheek addresses but fails to concede there exists a "perceived lack of representation." I should think Cheek feels he is properly represented as he is currently surrounded by trustees. The closest ones are 4ths, 6ths and 8ths of a mile away from his home. The closest trustees to residents of the Golfview and South Point neighborhoods are 2.2 and 2.3 miles away, respectively.
How well can a trustee represent and understand the unique characteristics of your neighborhood if the closest one lives on the other side of town? Districting seeks to enhance representation.
To correct the perceived lack of representation, Cheek points out anyone can run for office. That’s an unfair oversimplification of the matter. There are latent barriers working against candidates from lower income neighborhoods when running for an at-large public office. Lower income neighborhoods typically have lower-voter registration rates and turnout at the polls than more economically sound neighborhoods.
Even educated middle and upper-middle income earners in lower-income neighborhoods are discouraged from running for an at-large office. Electing our village trustees from six separate districts would remove unintended barriers from holding office because of where you live and allow more people an opportunity to represent their neighborhood, district and village.
Cheek writes that current access to the trustees can be accomplished by making an appointment. If you don’t know them personally, which one do you call? — Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.
What happens when you call and they ask, "Where is that street?" If you elected a trustee from your district you would know which one to call, are more likely to have met her and she would not only know your street but your neighborhood as well.
As to accountability, Cheek says you currently should hold the entire village board equally accountable. That’s just nonsense. If there were potholes on the street in front of your home, that leaves six trustees pointing the finger of blame at one another with no individual accountability. It makes better sense to hold the individual trustee from your district accountable for what happens in your district. Then the six trustees representing their respective districts can gather as one board and address what is best for the village overall.
Cheek incorrectly said there was a same attempt to change our form of government in 1977. First, districting is about how we elect our trustees; it’s not a change in our form of government. Rantoul will remain a "trustee-village" form of government.
In 1977 there was an unsuccessful attempt to change to districting. That was 41 years ago when Jimmy Carter was president, Rantoul First Federal was paying 7.75 percent in interest and Chanute, our economy, and the village were strong. The real issue back then was that permanent village residents weren’t receptive to temporary residents affiliated with the military obtaining representation on the board.
In his guest commentary Cheek said districting was a flawed idea in 1977, and he believes it still is. That’s not what Cheek said in 1977.
Back in 1977 Cheek ran unsuccessfully for village trustee. During that same election there were public debates on districting. As a candidate for office Cheek would have been knowledgeable about the issue. In a March 23, 1977, Rantoul Press story Cheek is quoted saying he would accept the public’s decision on the matter (districting), "If you’re happy, I’ll be happy."
In closing his guest commentary Cheek said he does not support districting; the voters will decide our fate; and drew upon the old adage that, "Home is what you make it."
Look around Rantoul today. You see abandoned businesses and homes, few employers, low-skill and low-paying jobs, few stores, fewer restaurants, the highest property tax rate in the county, and low property values. Our school districts rank as the worst in the county and among the lowest in the state. Yep, home is what you make it. Look what we have made of our home.
It’s time for positive change. For Rantoul to move forward we must learn from past mistakes. To move toward Mayor Smith’s dream of Rantoul Tomorrow, we must make positive changes to empower residents and promote community involvement.
Vote "yes" for better representation, more accountability and greater community involvement. Vote "yes" for districting this November.
Jack Anderson is a resident of Rantoul.