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Citizens v. Mckee Creek Watershed Dist.

OPINION FILED MAY 6, 1976.

CITIZENS TO SAVE OUR LAND ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

MCKEE CREEK WATERSHED CONSERVANCY DISTRICT OF ADAMS, BROWN AND PIKE COUNTIES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Adams Rounty; the Hon. JOHN T. REARDON, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE GREEN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Pursuant to the authority granted by the River Conservancy Districts Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1965, ch. 42, par. 383 et seq.), and in accordance with the procedures set forth therein, the formation of the McKee Creek Watershed Conservancy District of Adams, Brown, and Pike Counties (hereafter called the District) began in March of 1967 and was completed in August of 1967. From the time of its establishment until early in 1974, the District's primary activities involved the planning and creation of an integrated watershed work plan for the District and the consideration of various methods for financing such a project. In 1974, the District adopted an ordinance for the implementation of a major local improvement including the acquisition of land and the construction of a series of lakes to supply water for municipalities, to provide recreation, and to prevent flooding. This project was to be financed by special assessment.

The plaintiffs then filed a complaint seeking injunctive relief to restrain the District from exercising any further authority under the provisions of the River Conservancy Districts Act on the theory that such Act is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs are Citizens to Save Our Land (a not-for-profit Illinois corporation) and numerous individuals who are landowners and residents within the District. After a hearing on the merits, the trial court dismissed the complaint. The plaintiffs appeal. We shall affirm.

The major contention advanced by the plaintiffs is that the River Conservancy Districts Act is unconstitutional because it provides for the appointment, rather than popular election, of the trustees of a river conservancy district. At the time when the defendant District was formed, the Act provided that the trustees of a district would be appointed by the court. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1965, ch. 42, par. 386a.) The Act was amended to change the method of appointment of trustees. The present statute provides for various methods of appointment of the trustees by elected local governmental officials. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 42, par. 386a.) This amended method of appointment is a familiar procedure in Illinois. See the statutes regarding Drainage Districts and Surface Water Protection Districts (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 42, pars. 3-9, 4-1, 456), Forest Preserve Districts and Conservation Districts (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 57 1/2, pars. 3a, 105), and Fire Protection Districts (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 127 1/2, par. 24).

The plaintiffs argue that the District is a local legislative body having general governmental powers; that, therefore, the trustees should be selected by popular election; and that the failure to select the trustees by popular election violates the "one-man, one-vote" principle and deprives the plaintiffs of due process and equal protection of the law. That specific issue has not been decided. As the United States Supreme Court has noted, "We need not decide at the present time whether a State may constitute a local legislative body through the appointive rather than the elective process. We reserve that question for other cases * * *." (Sailors v. Board of Education, 387 U.S. 105, 109-10, 18 L.Ed.2d 650, 654, 87 S.Ct. 1549.) In Sailors, the court held that a Michigan county board of education (which was an appointed body under State statute) performed essentially administrative functions rather than legislative activities and that such nonlegislative officials could be appointed.

• 1 Nor will we have to decide the question, for we have concluded that the district is a limited purpose unit whose trustees perform nonlegislative functions. We have found guidance on the issue of whether the District is a local legislative body or a special purpose unit performing nonlegislative functions in the cases which involve the determination of whether elections of local public officials must comply with the "one-man, one-vote" standard established by the line of decisions beginning with Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 7 L.Ed.2d 663, 82 S.Ct. 691, and Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 12 L.Ed.2d 506, 84 S.Ct. 1362. The analytical method applied by the United States Supreme Court to determine whether the election of a local public official must comply with the "one-man, one-vote" standard is to determine whether the body to which such official is elected is a local legislative body whose activities have influence on the citizenry generally or whether the body is a special limited-purpose body whose activities primarily affect a special group of citizens.

In Avery v. Midland County, 390 U.S. 474, 20 L.Ed.2d 45, 88 S.Ct. 1114, the court was confronted with the question of whether the election of a county governing board in Texas, called the Midland County Commissioners Court, must adhere to the Reynolds standard. The county commissioners were empowered to appoint numerous minor county officials, to let contracts in the name of the county, to build roads and bridges, to adopt the county budget, to set the county tax rate, to administer the county's public welfare program, to build a hospital, airport, and library, to fix boundaries for school districts, and the like. As the court stated:

"Were the Commissioners Court a special-purpose unit of government assigned the performance of functions affecting definable groups of constituents more than other constituents, we would have to confront the question whether such a body may be apportioned in ways which give greater influence to the citizens most affected by the organization's functions. That question, however, is not presented by this case, for while Midland County authorities may concentrate their attention on rural roads, the relevant fact is that the powers of the Commissioners Court include the authority to make a substantial number of decisions that affect all citizens, whether they reside inside or outside the city limits of Midland." (390 U.S. 474, 483-84, 20 L.Ed.2d 45, 53, 88 S.Ct. 1114, 1120.)

"We hold today only that the constitution permits no substantial variation from equal population in drawing districts for units of local government having general governmental powers over the entire geographic area served by the body." (390 U.S. 474, 484-85, 20 L.Ed.2d 45, 53, 88 S.Ct. 1114, 1120.)

The election of the county governing board was required to satisfy the "one-man, one-vote" standard. The same result was reached regarding the election of the trustees of a junior college district in Missouri in Hadley v. Junior College District, 397 U.S. 50, 25 L.Ed.2d 45, 90 S.Ct. 791, which was the farthest extension of the "one-man, one-vote" requirement.

"Appellants argue that since the trustees can levy and collect taxes, issue bonds with certain restrictions, hire and fire teachers, make contracts, collect fees, supervise and discipline students, pass on petitions to annex school districts, acquire property by condemnation, and in general manage the operations of the Junior College, their powers are equivalent, for apportionment purposes, to those exercised by the county commissioners in Avery. We feel that these powers, while not fully as broad as those of the Midland County Commissioners, certainly show that the trustees perform important governmental functions within the Districts, and we think these powers are general enough and have sufficient impact throughout the District to justify the conclusion that the principle which we applied in Avery should also be applied here." 397 U.S. 50, 53-54, 25 L.Ed.2d 45, 49, 90 S.Ct. 791, 794.

More recently, however, in Salyer Land Co. v. Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District, 410 U.S. 719, 35 L.Ed.2d 659, 93 S.Ct. 1224, the court considered whether the board of directors of a water storage district in California had to be elected under the "one-man, one-vote" principle and reached a different conclusion.

"We conclude that the appellee Water Storage District, by reason of its special limited purpose and of the disproportionate effect of its activities on landowners as a group, is the sort of exception to the rule laid down in Reynolds which the quoted language from Hadley, supra, and the decision in Avery, supra, contemplated.

"The appellee District in this case, although vested with some typical governmental powers, has relatively limited authority. Its primary purpose, indeed the reason for its existence, is to provide for the acquisition, storage, and distribution of water for farming in the Tulare ...


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