by John E. Motylinski (Spring 2018)

Home rule powers are especially broad. Indeed, home rule units have all powers of a sovereign unless the General Assembly has expressly limited those powers. In the recent decision of Jaros v. Village of Downers Grove, 2017 IL App (2d) 170758, the Illinois Appellate Court illustrated just how wide-reaching home rule authority can be in upholding a local government’s power to remove a municipal library board trustee.

The Village of Downers Grove is a home rule municipality and is intimately related to the Downers Grove Public Library, which was established pursuant to the Local Library Act (75 ILCS 5). For example, under the Library Act, the Village has statutory authority to appoint library trustees. Significantly, the Village also enacted an ordinance, using its home rule powers, permitting its Village Council to remove any member of a Village board or commission where the member was appointed by the Village Council in the first place.

In August 2015, Arthur Jaros was appointed to the Library Board for a six-year term by the Village Council. At the Library’s August 23, 2017, meeting, a League of Women Voters monitor reported that Jaros questioned why library staff members needed training on inclusion and diversity. Jaros also reportedly said that the library staff should protect children from exposure to homosexuals and homosexual lifestyle. Jaros fervently denied that the monitor’s claims were accurate. Nevertheless, the Village Council – relying on its ordinance – unanimously voted to remove Jaros as a Library Trustee.

Jaros took the matter to the circuit court, arguing that the Village had no authority to remove him.   The circuit court disagreed and dismissed his lawsuit. Jaros then appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District.

On appeal, Jaros advanced three arguments. First, he contended that the Village and the Library were two separate and distinct public bodies. Therefore, the Village could not exercise its home rule powers and remove him. Second, Jaros asserted that the Village could not remove him because home rule units need to run an authorizing referendum to “alter or repeal a form of government provided by law” under the Illinois Constitution. Since no referendum was passed, Jaros contended he could not have been removed. Third, Jaros argued that Section 4-4 of the Library Act governed removal of Library trustees, even though it only referred to vacancies on its face.

Considering the merits of the case, the appellate court started with the premise that the Village, as a home rule municipality, was able to pass ordinances that had the same force and effect as State law – so long as the General Assembly does not explicitly take that power away. The court found no evidence that the General Assembly had intended to deprive home rule municipalities of their ability to remove library trustees. Therefore, the Village’s removal ordinance was presumptively valid.

The court then rejected each of Jaros’s arguments in turn. First, even if the Library was technically a separate unit of local government, the Illinois Supreme Court had already held that home rule municipalities can exercise their authority over their libraries. Therefore, Jaros’s first argument was moot.

Second, the court found that no referendum was required to remove Jaros. In the court’s view, no “form of government” would be changed by removing him, as it did not implicate “the relationship between the legislative and executive branches” of the Village or Library Board. Stated differently, the removal did not modify the structure or organization of the Library Board; it merely regulated which individuals could serve as trustees in the established scheme.

Finally, Section 4-4 of the Library Act, which was cited by Jaros as fatal to the Village’s attempt to remove him, was inapplicable. The court found that Section 4-4 only deals with the filling of vacancies on the Library Board. As such, the court refused to read into Section 4-4 “an implied limitation on when vacancies must be declared,” and found that it “does not speak at all to discretionary removal or to the creation of vacancies in situations other than those listed.” If the General Assembly had intended to limit home rule authority to remove Library Board trustees, it would have said so in a statute. Therefore, Section 4-4 was of no help to Jaros.

In conclusion, the appellate court ruled that the Village properly removed Jaros appropriately exercising its home rule powers.

The Jaros decision serves as a demonstration of the breadth of home rule powers. Indeed, home rule units will be presumed to wield the power of the State, so long as the General Assembly has not said otherwise, and this power may even extend to the composition of an independent public body. Accordingly, home rule governments should keep their tremendous powers in mind in confronting and resolving unique local issues.