January 12th, 2021 6:18 PM
Oak Park village president candidate and current village trustee Dan Moroney has requested the village board consider an advisory referendum question for the April 6 municipal election ballot asking Oak Park residents if they want to "defund" the police department.
Moroney wants the referendum used as a litmus test to determine residents' appetite to defund police, while other elected officials criticized the move as a political stunt.
Moroney posed the request in an email sent Jan. 6 to the village board, phrasing the referendum question as, "Shall the Village of Oak Park defund its police department."
He asked that the resolution be voted on at the board's next meeting scheduled for Jan. 19 – the last day local government boards can add referendum questions to the ballot. Wednesday Journal obtained the email through a Freedom of Information request.
The timing and nature of the request have aroused suspicion in a handful of Moroney's village board peers, who view it as a tactic employed by Moroney to garner support for his campaign for village president.
"It's clearly a political stunt," said Trustee Simone Boutet, herself a candidate for village president.
Boutet told Wednesday Journal that the term "defund the police" has not been sufficiently defined and, if added to the ballot, the referendum would not produce accurate information to gauge the community's opinion.
The concept of defunding the police will have a place on the ballot, if not explicitly, without the referendum, according to Boutet, because candidates have to make their stances known regarding policing.
"I urge voters to be informed on where different candidates' stand on this issue," said Boutet, who declined to say how she will be voting on the resolution.
According to the Cook County Clerk, referenda brought through local government boards are binding. Moroney intends for his to be advisory, or not binding. Village Attorney Paul Stephanides did not immediately respond to Wednesday Journal's request to comment on the legality of a village trustee proposing a non-binding referendum.
"As I understand it, it's for binding or advisory," Moroney said, suggesting the board can designate the category.
When asked why he did not bring the resolution forward sooner, when the board spent much of the previous year discussing police reform, Moroney said the idea came to him over Christmas when the board was not in session.
"This idea was brought to me in conversation by a few residents who felt that the village board should give residents more of a voice on this matter," he said.
Those residents, according to Moroney, went to him with the idea of a referendum instead of submitting it through public comment for fear of getting "labeled."
Moroney said board members receive masses of emails urging the village board to defund the police, which compelled him to make the request.
"We're being asked with hundreds of emails to reduce our police force by roughly 30 percent," said Moroney.
When asked why the resolution did not include any percentage or timeframe in which to defund the police department, Moroney said the vague wording was commandeered language used by police reform advocates.
"It's the language that advocates are using, if it's not 'abolished,'" said Moroney.
Moroney mentioned Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, who has made police reform her cornerstone issue since being elected and who sponsored a defunding resolution before the village board last August. She is also allied with other organizers who post on social media calling to defund law enforcement.
"Advocates are taking a complex topic, and really reducing it to hash tag," said Moroney.
Moroney categorically denied having any underlying political motive for bringing the defunding referendum to the village board table.
"This is a massive issue," said Moroney. "Public safety is a bedrock role of municipal government."
In an interview with Wednesday Journal, Walker-Peddakotla called Moroney's referendum "a charade," as well as a "political stunt."
"I wonder why Trustee Moroney wasn't so interested in public opinion in November of 2020, when he could have put a referendum question on that ballot," Walker-Peddakotla said.
She expressed skepticism regarding Moroney's explanation that he is interested in gathering public opinion on the defunding issue.
"Trustee Moroney has never been interested; he hasn't listened to public opinion on a host of issues," she said.
In her time on the board, Walker-Peddakotla said Oak Park residents have shared with the village board their opinions on defunding, as well as policing in general, with more frequency and in greater numbers than any other issue.
"This to me is yet another political ploy by Trustee Moroney," said Walker-Peddakotla. "It's just a blatant attempt to try and sway an election in his favor and the board should vote against it."