Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Panel could decide property tax cut ballot access by July 1; 'Trust but verify' remark leads to spirited exchange

By Ann Maher | Jun 24, 2016

A Madison County panel will decide no earlier than July 1 whether a property tax reduction question will go to voters in November.

Following closing arguments Friday morning, electoral board attoney Stephen Wigginton said the panel was still "crunching numbers" and would probably deliberate through next week before issuing a written decision.


Panel members including County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza, former judge James Hackett and former assistant state's attorney Stephanie Robbins will determine whether there are at least 8,024 valid signatures, the minimum to withstand the challenge at hand.

Petition organizers gathered close to 10,000 signatures in the spring to get a referendum on the ballot in the general election that proposes to reduce the county's maximum levy of 25 cents per $100 assessed valuation to a maximum of 20 cents. Objectors have attempted to halt the referendum from getting on the ballot, saying proponents allowed fraudulent activity to get as many signatures as possible.

With the decision now in the board's hands, it could adopt the position of objectors Barrett Dickman and Richard Gillespie who say that only 6,014 of the total collected are valid - or approximately 2,000 short of what is needed; or referendum leader Michael Firsching's position which holds that any way you look at the numbers, they are in proponents' favor.

Objectors' attorney Jack Daugherty argued at closing that petitions gathered by a half dozen circulators should be thrown out, either because of problems with common authorship - where spouses, for instance, may have signed for their partners - or that some circulators disregarded rules when gathering signatures.

He said that the election code and election process was at stake and their integrity needs protection.

Daugherty also cast doubt on signatures collected by college students who were paid $1 for each one collected.

He asked hypothetically what would happen to the credibility of the process if his side paid a handwriting expert for each signature thrown out.

"It would destroy credibility," he said.

On several occasions, Daugherty uttered Ronald Reagan's signature phrase, "trust but verify," and rejected criticism that his side was putting "Democracy on trial."

"I believe this is Democracy in action," he said.

Daugherty's invocation of Ronald Reagan was met with opposing counsel Don Weber calling it "political blasphemy."

That teed up the following light-hearted exchange:

"I was a Ronald Reagan delegate," Weber said. "I met him in Belleville."

He looked at Daugherty and said, "You're no Ronald Reagan," to which Daugherty responded, "That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me."

Weber, who along with James Craney represents proponents of the property tax cut proposal, said that Daugherty's math and figures were flawed.

He said that Ming-Mendoza's office had already indicated 8,004 signatures were valid and that his side at minimum only needed to authenticate another 19.

He pointed to circulator Kim Thomas's testimony on Thursday in which she confirmed the authenticity of 46 signatures the board had questioned, which he said was enough to carry the referendum.

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