Out of 102 counties in Illinois, all but about 11 have the township form of government. Our county board used to consist of Township Supervisors, with 36 members, until the United States Supreme Court said county board representatives must represent population and not acres. So the board maps were re-drawn in 1970 and the current five district, 25 person board was adopted.
Township government consists of a township supervisor, clerk, road commissioner, four trustees and an assessor. There are now a number of multi-township assessors, who are overseen by a multi-township assessment committe. They all work with our County Superintendent of Assessments, Joyce Skinner. Because qualifications are becoming more stringent for township assessors, the day is quickly coming when there will be a core of well educated assessors who cover the whole county. In fact, there are only about eight assessors now in the rural areas outside Galesburg. Darrell Lovell is the elected Assessor for the Town of the City of Galesburg.
Townships provide general assistance for township residents, maintain roads and assess property for taxation. The township road commissioners cooperate with the county highway department in their ordering of equipment and materials. They assist each other as necessary. The commissioners meet with the highway superintendent on a regular basis and members of the county board highway committee attend.
The viability of Township government is often discussed, as it was recently in a series in the Peoria Journal Star and on WGIL radio in Galesburg.
I think Township government is valuable in the rural areas of our county because it represents and unites citizens in a small area. It is neighbors solving some of their own problems in an organized manner.
And even in the populated area of Galesburg, where city and township governments overlap, the areas of responsibility are clear cut. The township office provides general assistance and all that goes with assessment of property: regular assessments and service. Christine Eik Winick, township supervisor of the Town of the City of Galesburg, says that with ''welfare reform,'' the caseload of her office has increased.
But like any level of government, citizens must take an interest and be a watchdog. Money can be misspent or stolen. Power can run amuck. If those things happen we have no one to blame but ourselves.
I remember a story about Maywood township West of Chicago. In the early 1960's the Maywood League of Women Voters was concerned about the shortage of funds for local schools. They learned that Maywood township had lots of extra money and that money could be used for educational purposes. The township officials had been meeting and conducting their business quietly for years, with no public scrutiny, and that was the way they liked it. When the League began asking questions and wanted to see an annual budget, the township officials were infuriated. They said League members couldn't speak at the annual meeting and wouldn't give them a copy of the budget.
The president of the League was a CPA and a feisty, smart little woman. On the day and time of the published annual township meeting League members appeared at the advertised location with their babies and lunches and the press in tow, prepared to camp out. The township officials weren't there. They were meeting at another place. The League members somehow found out where and off they stormed, with babies, food and the press. In the end, township money was transferred to an education fund and the story of the determined women was on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times.
So if you want to get into local government at the very grass roots level, attend the party caucus of your choice. Public notices are being placed by township clerks. You can also be an independent candidate and information can be obtained at the County Clerk's office. Tuesday, January 9th. This Democracy is a lot of work, isn't it?
Caroline Porter is a freelance writer from Galesburg who can be reached at (309) 342-1337 or email@example.com.