Harley Clarke citizen referendum to appear on November ballot


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd. A citizen advisory referendum will appear on the November ballot after the election commission dismissed and overruled objections to the referendum.

Elizabeth Byrne, Summer Editor

A citizen advisory referendum about the possible demolition of the Harley Clarke mansion will appear on the November ballot after the election commission dismissed one objection to the referendum and overruled another at a Tuesday meeting.

The election commission unanimously overruled a third objection against the referendum to the referendum at an Aug. 14 meeting.

The original petition to put the referendum on the November ballot was filed on July 25 by Allison Harned, a member of the Save Harley Clarke group. At the election commission meeting Tuesday, Harned said the petition had over 3,300 signatures.

According to city documents, the referendum asks if the city should “protect from demolition and preserve the landmark Harley Clark building and gardens next to Lighthouse Beach,” and keep it as public property at “minimal or no cost to taxpayers.”

On July 23, City Council voted to move forward with the demolition of the Harley Clarke Mansion, a plan proposed by a group of private donors under the name of Evanston Lighthouse Dunes.

The first objection addressed at the meeting was filed by Evanston resident Thomas Witt who said the wording of the referendum was misleading. In his filed objection to the referendum, he said the referendum “omits information essential for a reasonable voter to understand what he or she is voting on.”

John Walsh, the lawyer representing Harned and the group of petitioners behind the referendum said the first objection should be overturned because the person behind the objection did not list his address on the objection, a requirement by the election code of Illinois.

“His objection does not comply with the requirements of the statute of the election commission,” Walsh said. “This requirement to include the residence address of the objector is mandatory, it is not directory.”

The election commission dismissed the objection with a 2-1 vote. Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty and City Clerk Devon Reid voted in favor of the dismissal and Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) voted against.

Rainey said it was a “real shame” to dismiss the objection on a technicality of not listing the objector’s address on the formal objection to the referendum.

“If the clerk’s office knew of this rule, the clerk’s office had every obligation to encourage the objector to put his address on this form,” Rainey said. “I would encourage the clerk’s office, if they didn’t know, to begin a training on how to fill all sorts of forms and advise people to come in.”

David Leitschuh, who filed the second objection along with three other Evanston residents, said they objected to the wording of the referendum specifically.

“We feel the referendum is vague,” Leitschuh said. “In the case of the referendum, when people are voting, I think it’s important for people to have a common and shared understanding of what it is they’re expressing.”

Leitschuh added that he believed the citizen referendum to be a “moot point” because City Council previously decided to move forward with a memorandum of understanding with the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes group to demolish Harley Clarke.

During the discussion, Hagerty, Reid and Rainey all spoke in support of having the referendum appear on the ballot. The election commission voted 3-0 to overrule the second objection filed against the referendum.

“I know that this is an issue this community has struggled with for a long, long time and my sense of the community is that people would like to see the mansion saved,” Hagerty said. “It’s all been about how do you save the mansion. I’m not sure this referendum answers that question per say but I think it should move forward.”

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