Judge rules Niles cannot have an elected ethics board; voters won’t learn results of April 4 election

Niles voters will probably never know the results of the Ethics Board election they voted in on April 4 after a Cook County Circuit judge ruled that village ordinance and structure does not allow for the creation of an elected ethics board.

The ruling appears to end the effort by some citizens to initiate a Niles elected ethics board, and Mayor George Alpogianis indicated the village’s appointed ethics board would be reconstituted.

In her judgment issued April 25, Judge Araceli De La Cruz ruled that the elected ethics board could not be imposed on the village and ordered Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough to keep the results of the recent election sealed.

“The referendum here does not qualify under the form of government clause … there is no law providing that the ethics board can be elected. There is no law or ordinance here that provides for the ethics board members,” the judge wrote.

De La Cruz said the Illinois Constitution provides for municipalities such as Niles to set out terms for choosing its government officers and its forms of government.

“The position of village ethics board member does not appear to be provided in the governmental structure chosen by the village,” De La Cruz said. “The ethics board was created by the Niles village code of ordinances. … The issue as to whether or not the ethics board is governed by the Illinois constitution is a matter of law.”

The ruling is a tenuous end to a three-year saga that began when outgoing Niles-Maine District Library Treasurer Joseph Makula tried to place a referendum question regarding whether the village should pivot to an elected ethics board on the November 2020 ballot.

That referendum prompted a lawsuit between Makula and the village over Clerk Marlene Victorine’s refusal to certify the question for the November 2020 election. The referendum did appear on the April 2021 consolidated election ballot but the results did not become public until June.

Eleven candidates threw their hats into the race for the elected ethics board in the April 4 election, and their backgrounds ranged from attorney to grocery store clerk.

Good government advocates and public affairs scholars from Reform for Illinois, the Chicago Ethics Board and Northern Illinois University told Pioneer Press electing an ethics board would likely be a move into uncharted waters offering the potential advantage of increased responsiveness to citizens but also the possible negative of creating politics on a body that is meant to be politically independent.

The ruling on the constitutionality of electing board members stems from a lawsuit from Niles resident Anthony Schittino, filed in February. Schittino’s suit argued another elected board would create two forms of government within Niles, violating the village’s ability to govern itself.

Alpogianis announced the outcome of the suit at the April 25 Village Board meeting and said the Niles ethics board would remain intact. The members’ terms technically expired in December 2022. He told Pioneer Press he plans to consult with and reappoint the most recent five members of the board to serve after consulting with them.