BLOOMINGTON — Judy Stearns will not be sworn in as Bloomington alderman until the city receives a second opinion from an attorney that specializes in election law.
The council voted 7 to 1 in a special session Monday night for the review to determine whether Stearns is eligible to serve another term on the council. Questions were raised about whether multiple homestead exemptions caused her to owe the city money. Stearns defeated Carol Koos by 64 votes in the April 5 election.
Ward 8 Alderman John Hanson suggested the second review before the council made a decision on seating Stearns.
“Instead of putting it to bed tonight, what I am hearing from my constituents is people want to know what is really going on here and what is the fairest way to resolve this,” Hanson said. “If they (the second attorney) find that there is nothing keeping her from office then that’s fine. ”
Aldermen David Sage, Ward 2, Karen Schmidt, Ward 6,and Rob Fazzini, Ward 8, who also won their races April 5, were sworn in after the council approved individual motions to seat them.
Stearns will continue to serve the city under her 2007 oath.
City attorney Todd Greenburg said an alderman continues to serve until he or she or a replacement is sworn in for the new term.
Stearns had declared four homestead exemptions, including two in Bloomington.
Under a February appellate court ruling, a candidate was kicked off the ballot because she owed the city of Chicago money and was not qualified to serve. The court ruled the candidate owed Chicago money because she underpayed her taxes by having multiple homestead exemptions.
Greenburg said no challenge was made to Stearns’ ability to serve during the election.
Greenburg said he believes that Stearns, who has since paid about $1,500 in estimated taxes to the city, has cured the problems and should be seated. Mercer Turner, Stearns’ attorney, said she has already done more than enough to cure the problem by paying the city portion of her taxes which was determined by Greenburg and City of Bloomington Township Assessor Mike Ireland. Stearns refused to answer questions following the meeting.
Several people spoke against the council’s action during public comments at the regular meeting.
Phil Boulds, owner of Mugsy’s Pub, said the council was “railroading” Stearns.
McLean County Record of Deeds Lee Newcom told the council that they were ignoring the law.
“Your corporate counsel told you that alderman should be seated and I hope that alderman goes into court tomorrow to force you to swear her in,” Newcom said. “This is incredible hubris on your part.”
Also, Schmidt said she noticed a second exemption on her property tax bills that were recently mailed by the county. She said she and her husband purchased the property last year and this was the first tax bill they received for the property. She said she has taken the needed steps to correct her tax bill.