DEPUE — Though Princeton voters may still be discussing the pros and cons of home rule status for their city, one Bureau County village has been a home rule community for nearly four years, and things are going well, according to the village's mayor.
DePue Mayor Eric Bryant Sr. said DePue became a home rule community in November 2008 as a means to have "more clout" in the village's lawsuits against Exxon/Mobile and Viacom International /CBS for their lack of clean-up efforts at the old New Jersey smelting plant in DePue.
At that time, the judge told village officials DePue was at a disadvantage because it was not a home rule community, Bryant said. With the judge's comments and a recommendation from village attorneys in mind, the village council decided to put a home rule referendum on the November 2008 ballot. The DePue residents approved the referendum on a 400 to 128 vote.
According to Bureau County Republican archives from 2008, DePue Village Attorney Melissa Sims said the court had granted the defense's motion to dismiss a DePue lawsuit because DePue couldn't order the defendants to pay a fine during the course of the clean-up. Because DePue was not a home rule unit, it only had those specific powers granted to it by Illinois statute, Sims said.
Since there was no federal law against DePue's desire to fine Exxon and Viacom, Sims recommended the village become home rule. If DePue became a home rule community, the village board could set the fines as high as the trustees desired. Although home rule can give a community other powers, the only purpose for DePue would be to be able to fine the defendants, Sims said.
On Tuesday, Bryant said DePue village officials have remained true to the original purpose of home rule for DePue and have not implemented any additional taxes.
"We told told the residents we would not use home rule to raise extra taxes, and we didn't," Bryant said.
The big issue that comes with home rule is the ability to trust your council members, Bryant added.
"That's the the scariest thing about home rule," Bryant said. "You are giving a lot of control to the village council, and you have to be able to trust your council members. But you have to remember they probably don't want to see taxes raised any more than you do. You elected those people to make good decisions on your behalf."
Communities with populations of 25,000 are automatically home rule communities, which is another thing to consider, Bryant said.
As far as any recommendations for Princeton voters considering home rule, Bryant said voters need to know their council members and also remember they can vote out home rule if it doesn't work for them.
"I think they (Princeton voters) should put their trust in their village fathers, and if the council seems to be in favor of home rule, I think the voters deserve to give it a shot and trust their council to do what's best for the city," Bryant said. "If for some reason, a council should abuse that power, then the residents can get the question on the ballot to rescind home rule."
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