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MCCOY v. CHICAGO HEIGHTS

May 28, 1998

ROBERT MCCOY, KEVIN PERKINS, RON HARPER AND WILLIAM ELLIOT, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHICAGO HEIGHTS, CHICAGO HEIGHTS ELECTION COMMISSION, Defendants. ROBERT MCCOY, KEVIN PERKINS, RON HARPER AND WILLIAM ELLIOT, Plaintiffs, vs. CHICAGO HEIGHTS PARK DISTRICT AND THE COOK COUNTY CLERK, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: COAR

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 Currently pending are the parties' proposals for remedying the Section 2 Voting Rights Act violations found previously by this court. For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, this court denies the proposals of the City, the Park District, and the class plaintiffs and accepts, in part, the proposal of the individual plaintiffs. As described herein, this court orders that the individual plaintiffs' proposal will be modified by implementing a system under which the aldermen and Park District members are elected at-large utilizing cumulative voting.

 I. BACKGROUND

 The instant case originated in 1987 and 1988 when the plaintiff class filed complaints on behalf of African-American voters of Chicago Heights against the defendants City of Chicago Heights ("City" or "Chicago Heights"), the Chicago Heights Election Commission, the Chicago Heights Park District ("Park District"), and Stanley Kusper, the Clerk of Cook County. The plaintiffs alleged that the non-partisan, at-large elections in Chicago Heights City Council and the Chicago Heights Park District Board violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1971 et seq., by diluting the opportunity of African-Americans to elect representatives of their choice. This case has a long and complicated procedural history and facts, which are reviewed in earlier opinions and therefore not necessary to review in detail here. See Harper v. City of Chicago Heights, 824 F. Supp. 786 (N.D. Ill. 1993) (Will, J.); Perkins v. City of Chicago Heights, 47 F.3d 212 (7th Cir. 1995); Harper v. City of Chicago Heights, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2509, 1997 WL 102543 (N.D. Ill. March 5, 1997) (Coar, J.).

 As discussed in earlier opinions, pursuant to a consent decree approved by Judge Will on May 24, 1994, the City and the Park District abandoned the at-large election method and created a new system of government. "The new plan was designed around six single member districts for the election of six single member districts for the election of six City Council members and six Park Board Commissioners, with a mayor and Park Board president *fn1" elected at-large." Harper, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17819, 1995 WL 706898 at *1. The form of government prescribed in the consent decree was a deviation from the forms of government provided for in the Illinois Municipal Code. See discussion, infra, Part II.A.2, II.B.2.

 Two of the named plaintiffs, Kevin Perkins and Robert McCoy (hereinafter "Perkins and McCoy" or "individual plaintiffs"), appealed the entry of the consent decree to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which vacated the decree and remanded the case. See Perkins, 47 F.3d at 218. The Seventh Circuit found that the parties did not have the ability to consent to modifications in statutorily prescribed forms of government absent a finding that "such a remedy is necessary to rectify a violation of federal law. . . . Without such findings, however, parties can only agree to that which they have the power to do outside of litigation." Id. at 216. Subsequent to the Seventh Circuit's February 7, 1995 decision, on November 7, 1997, the form of government contained in the consent decree was approved by Chicago Heights voters in a referendum.

 On remand, this court found that Judge Will's November 29, 1995 order and the stipulation and agreement satisfy the Seventh Circuit's directive to determine whether there was a violation of the Voting Rights Act. See Harper, 1997 WL 102543 at *3. This court further found that, under the at-large system previously in place, "few African-American candidates of choice were ever elected to the city council; the electorate was racially polarized; the at-large election system enhanced discrimination against African-Americans; and African-Americans were denied access to the slating process." Id. at *12. In addition, the evidence before this court demonstrated that African-Americans in Chicago Heights "bear the effects of historic discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, education, and public accommodations." Id. at *10. Accordingly, this court concluded that it was necessary to determine whether the consent decree sets forth a valid remedy for the City's and the Park District's Section 2 violations. The fact that the form of government provided in the consent decree has been "approved" pursuant to a referendum does not relieve this court of its obligation to decide whether the consent decree remedies the underlying violation. See id. at *5.

 This court ordered the parties to propose new governmental structures and voting maps designed to remedy the voting rights violations. See id. at *14. Subsequently, the City, the Park District, the class plaintiffs, and Harper and McCoy submitted memoranda and documents proposing new forms of government for the City and the Park District.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. City of Chicago Heights

 1. Forms of City Government

 The form of government that was in place when the voting rights violation occurred was the commission form of government, which provided for a mayor and four council members elected at-large. See 65 ILCS 5/4-3-1. Under the commission form of government, the four candidates receiving the highest number of votes are elected to the council and elections are held every four years. Cumulative voting was not permitted under the Chicago Heights voting system. See Harper, 824 F. Supp. at 793 n.4 (Ex. A, Report and Recommendation, Nordberg, J.).

 The Illinois Municipal Code provides for three other forms of government beyond the commission form: (1) aldermanic; (2) managerial; and (3) strong mayor. See 65 ILCS 5/1-1-1 et seq. The "aldermanic" form of government is the basic form of government available to cities in Illinois and is outlined in Article 3.1 of the Municipal Code. Cities may choose to expand upon the aldermanic form of government by adopting the commission, managerial, or strong mayor forms of government. The numbers of aldermen prescribed by the different forms of government vary according to size of the city. *fn2" Chicago Heights has a total population of 33,072. *fn3"

 Under the aldermanic form of government, cities the size of Chicago Heights are divided into seven wards, with two aldermen per ward. See 65 ILCS 5/3.1-20-10. The number of aldermen may be reduced to one per ward pursuant to a referendum. See 65 ILCS 5/3.1-20-20. The Code also provides for the adoption of a minority representation plan as a modification to the traditional aldermanic form of government. See 65 ILCS 5/3.1-15-35.

 The managerial form of government provides for seven wards, with two aldermen per ward, in a municipality the size of Chicago Heights. See 65 ILCS 5/5-2-2. Under the strong mayor form of government, a city the size of Chicago Heights is allocated five wards, with two alderman from each ward. See 65 ILCS 5/6-3-3. The aldermanic, managerial, and strong mayor forms of government all provide for a city clerk and treasurer elected at-large. See 65 ILCS 5/3.1-15-5; 65 ILCS 5/5-2-19; 65 ILCS 5/6-3-3.

 2. Consent Decree

 The type of strong mayor government adopted by the City in the consent decree is a modification of that outlined in the Municipal Code. First, instead of five wards with two alderman each as prescribed by Illinois law for the strong mayor government, the City has six districts with one alderman elected from each. See 65 ILCS 5/6-3-5 ("Every city shall have as many wards as one-half the total number of aldermen to which the city is entitled."). In addition, instead of electing the clerk and treasurer at-large, see 65 ILCS 5/6-3-3, these officers are appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council. Also, the mayor currently appoints administrative assistants and a budget and finance director. *fn4"

 B. Chicago Heights Park District

 1. Forms of Government for Park District

 The Illinois Park District Code provides that the five candidates who receive the most votes in an at-large election are elected commissioners of the Park District. See 70 ILCS 1205/2-9. By referendum or resolution of the Board, the Board may be comprised of seven commissioners. *fn5" See 70 ILCS 1205/2-10a. A Park District Board president may be elected at-large, see 770 ILCS 1250/2-15, or elected from within their members by the elected commissioners, see 70 ILCS 1205/4-8. The Board president serves as a member of the board with the power to preside at meetings and call special Board meetings:

 
The president of any park district shall preside at all meetings of the board, and shall call special meetings thereof of his own motion or on request of two or more of the members, and in case of a special meeting shall cause a notice to be given to all members as provided by the rule of said board. He shall have the right to vote upon all questions coming before the board and shall be a member thereof.

 70 ILCS 1205/4-9.

 2. Consent Decree

 The consent decree made the following changes to the Park District governmental structure that was in place at the time of the voting rights act violations: the number of Board members is increased from five to seven; the terms are decreased from six to four years; six of the board members are elected from six wards rather than at-large; and, the Board president is elected at-large rather than by the other board members. As is clear from the discussion in the previous subsection the governmental structure provided for the Park District in the consent decree is a modification of the statutorily prescribed ...


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