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City: Council has right to review Stearns' eligibility

City: Council has right to review Stearns' eligibility

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BLOOMINGTON — The Bloomington City Council has a right to review Alderman Judy Stearns’ eligibility to serve on the council and a judge should not rule on such matters, according to a motion filed Thursday by the city in McLean County Circuit Court.

City attorney Todd Greenburg said the council has “the statutory authority to investigate and determine the factual issue of whether a person seeking to serve as alderman is in arrears in the payment of taxes or other indebtedness due to the city.”

He is asking the courts to throw out a lawsuit Stearns filed last week seeking a judge to order the council to seat her for a second term.

A hearing is set for Monday.

Instead of allowing Stearns to take the oath of office May 9, the council voted to hire an outside attorney to review whether Stearns is eligible because of two property tax questions.

She had not paid taxes on a McLean Street property in Bloomington at the time she filed her nominating petition to run in the April 5 election.

Also, Stearns and her husband, Randy, had four homestead exemptions on properties they owned in the state but are legally entitled to only one. The Illinois First District Appellate Court previously ruled that a candidate in Chicago was ineligible to be on the ballot because of underpaid taxes resulting from multiple homestead exemptions.

Greenburg said the attorney hired to review the situation is supposed to have a recommendation ready by June 8 so the council would have time to consider it before its June 13 meeting.

Stearns paid more than $2,000 to the city, the City of Bloomington Township and the Bloomington Public Library in an effort to compensate for the multiple homestead exemptions. But Stearns said in her lawsuit she does not believe she owes the city the money and wants the amounts paid to be considered a donation.

Stearns won a second term by 64 votes during the April 5 election. In her lawsuit, she claims political opponents have falsely portrayed her as having not paid her taxes.

Stearns’ attorney, Peter Storm of Geneva, was not available Thursday for comment.

Included in the city’s response, Greenburg said Stearns has not sworn under oath that she was did not owe the city tax money or that when she filed her nominating papers her taxes were paid in full. As a result, Greenburg said that Stearns has not established a clear right for a court order because the facts needed for a judge’s ruling have not been established.

“The person suing has to prove the governmental body is wrong,” Greenburg said. “And she has not established that the city is wrong.”

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