Former U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton has been appointed to represent a three-member panel that will decide whether a property tax cut proposal can go before Madison County voters in November.
A hearing that had been set to begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Madison County courthouse was recessed to executive session because three of four lawyers on record in the case were not present.
Granite City attorney William Schooley, who represents objectors Bennett Dickmann and Richard Gillespie, was on hand for his clients in their challenge to the validity of signatures collected by proponents of the referendum.
Madison County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza, who serves as the panel's chairperson by statute, told the gallery that Wigginton would be arriving later. She also said that attorneys for the defendants - James Craney and Don Weber - were absent due to Weber's illness and Craney being called out of town.
Wigginton, who stepped down as federal prosecutor in December to take a position at Armstrong Teasdale in St. Louis, will serve as counsel to the electoral board. Other members of the panel include former Madison County associate judge James Hackett and former assistant state's attorney Stephanie Robbins.
Organizers of the property tax cut referendum recently gathered nearly 10,000 signatures to get the question on reducing the levy to voters in the general election. They collected approximately 2,000 more signatures than was required in order to withstand objections - which ultimately came, and which is the matter pending before Ming-Mendoza's panel.
Objectors argue that close to 30 percent of signatures collected are invalid, and that, therefore, the referendum cannot go forth to voters in the upcoming election.
The referendum question has become a battleground issue for the future governance of Madison County. Sides are lining up either with Republican Kurt Prenzler, a lead organizer who says the county is over-taxing property owners, or with Democrat incumbent Board Chairman Alan Dunstan, whose allies say the cut would reduce funding for law enforcement.