Following Instructions - It's Not Hard; but it's Critical
Years ago a friend of mine changed the oil in his car. Not long after his engine seized and he was forced to replace the entire engine block. Why? Because he was in a hurry and didn't tighten the oil drain plug. It's a simple step, a required step to keep the oil inside the car and not on the road, driveway, and every parking spot. It's a step that if missed, will drain the oil from the car and cause the engine to no longer work. It's as simple as that. Was he aware he needed to tighten the plug? Yes. Had he tightened that plug in prior oil changes? Yes. But he didn't do that one time -- and that was all it took to kill a beloved car. Now, one could argue that had he noticed the pool of oil in his driveway, he could have remedied this error before the engine seized; but he didn't. He was very confident in his abilities to change oil and didn't think he would have missed a step until he was a stranded on the side of the road.
So, much like the steps to change your oil, if you want to be a candidate for let's say, Village Trustee or Village President, there's a process that involves following a few key steps, following the rules, and watching the timing.
So, the process for the Board Positions in Lakewood is simple:
Pick-up a packet (either in person or online) from village hall. These were made available on 9/22/20. This packet included instructions, calendar, and copies of all the forms that needed to be filled out. It also clearly states that more information can be found in the Candidate's Guide on the county's website.
The next and likely the hardest of all the steps is getting your petition for nomination signed. This involves going to your friends and neighbors and asking them to support putting you on the ballot for the position you seek. You need a minimum number of signatures (also clearly laid out in the instructions) to even appear and it's best practice to turn in well over that just in case there's any questions.
These petitions can be circulated by others, but one person must witness all 10 signatures that appear on that petition. So, for example, you can't pass the same sheet between you and your spouse each getting 5 people to sign it.
This form needs to be notarized and signed by the circulator -- swearing to the fact that the circulator personally witnessed each person signing their own name on the petition.
There are three other forms that the candidates fill out: Statement of Candidacy (this is where you basically spell out who you are and what office you are running for); a Loyalty Oath (this is optional, but basically says that you aren't a member of the communist party); and a Statement of Economic Interest. The first two of these need to be notarized, but the Statement of Economic Interest needs only be filled out and filed with the county who will then give the candidate a receipt.
Once you have all the signatures you need, everything notarized, and your receipt from the county, you number all the petition pages, bind it together (read: staple it) and wait until the day that nominating petitions are accepted and you give them to the election official (here in Lakewood, this is our Village Clerk).
Once you hand that packet to the clerk you may not amend, change, alter it in any way. That's actually one of the reasons for the staple -- it prevents the ability to easily switch one page out for another.
The submission period is 7 days (7 real days, not business days) long. And then it closes.
And that's it. Done. If someone sees a problem with your packet, they can object to it and while it may seem petty to do so; it's again a check to confirm that everyone is playing by the same rules. I need to note here -- the election officials can not aid anyone. They can not show favoritism to one candidate over another and as such can not participate in telling a candidate that there's any flaw in their packet.
In early December, I was confirming my packet was complete and realized I needed to get my Statement of Economic Interest to the County. There's an entire section on the website dedicated to this step, and they have a phone number. I called and spoke to an utterly delightful woman who helped me understand how to get this filed correctly during COVID times. Normally, you'd walk into the courthouse, file, and get a receipt. But since you can't do that, they have a drop box in front of the building that she said is checked multiple times a day and they would email or mail me back my receipt. However, she told me, "If that sounds like too much work, you can just email it to me, and I'll email you your receipt back." I asked about turn around time thinking it would be a few days -- she laughed and said, "hour unless I'm at lunch, then maybe 2." When I said she was delightful -- she was.
So, on December 14th, 8 people showed up in Village Hall in the first hour that submissions were accepted to submit our nomination packets. I was the third to submit my packet after Trustee Dan Alexander and Trustee Pam Eddy. I couldn't stay and watch the rest of the people submit, so I left Village Hall. Shortly after I left, I got texts that our Village President was in a lather over a staple when he realized that his buddy's packet (and ostensibly his) was not stapled. I giggled and made a post on FB about the contrasts between our current Village President in his sweatpants and fretting over a staple and his opponent who was in dress clothes with a tie and totally calm. At that point, I set it aside thinking this was pretty much done.
The afternoon of December 14th, Dave, Phil's opposition, texted me and asked "what's the deal about the staple?" and I laughed and shared the story as it was shared with me. His reply text sent chills up my spine, "My packet was paper clipped." Well -- that is not stapled. And, we needed to get it fixed. So, fortunately, the handy Candidate's Guide explains how -- simply put, you redo every single step you did the first time. All new signatures, all new forms, all new receipt for the Statement of Economic Interest. You also write a letter withdrawing your previous paperwork and replace it with this new packet (the one with a shiny staple). So...that's what he did. Yes, with lots of help. In 24 hours, he had 107 signatures because he had the help of 5 or 6 circulators (including myself). And on the morning of December 21st (the final day of submission), he refiled all his paperwork, correctly. At this point, I thought we were pretty much done and ready to start campaigning.
Well, the story appears to not end with fixing one candidate's paperwork. It appears that a resident went to Village Hall and reviewed all the packets and in the process a story came out about how 4 candidates filed and then removed their packets to add the staple. But while that is egregious and potentially illegal (removal of election documents once submitted and altering election documents after submission), all that angst was for naught. Not a single one of them filed the receipt of Economic Interest Statement. Not one of them called the sweet woman I spoke to and found out that a simple email would have given them the needed receipt. No, 4 candidates (three incumbents and one sitting P&Z member) filed the actual Statement of Economic Interest, not the receipt. This would seem to suggest that it isn't on file with the county. By the way, this statement is supposed to alert the public to potential conflicts of interest, like any candidate who earns their living from another municipality or owns a company that does business with the municipality that they are running for office in.
There may be a claim that they didn't file the receipt they filed the whole document. But they filed it with the wrong person -- the wrong office in fact. I seriously doubt that the IRS would be forgiving if I filed and paid my federal income taxes to the State of Illinois when they audited me for failure to pay. I doubt I'd get to claim that "oh, but I filed them -- just with the State, not you." Filed is filed properly with the proper agency.
So, tonight, there's a hearing on the objection to the nominating papers of those 4 candidates. While the objections include the lack of a staple, the removal of the documents from the election official, and the failure to refile appropriately; understand that they quite literally did not do one of the steps that is outlined in the process. It is on the checklist included in the candidates guide. This objection isn't petty -- it is material proof of the lack of attention to the right way to do things. It is proof that our current incumbents do not believe the rules apply to them as they apply to others --- or perhaps that following the rules is for chumps. But if nothing else, it begs the question, if it is so important to them to run for office, why was it not important to follow the proper process? If they are willing to cut corners in this process, what corners are they cutting when it comes to their tenure on our board and governing our village.
April 6th is coming. Change needs to happen. Bring professionalism, dignity, attention to detail, and fiscal responsibility back to Lakewood. It's time to say goodbye to the drama.