Home rule village has authority to remove library trustee
The Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, recently ruled in Jaros v. Village of Downers Grove that a home rule village board has the authority to remove a library board trustee prior to the end of his or her six-year term.1 However, due to the unique circumstances of the case, the decision, if properly understood, likely has far less precedential value or general application than is currently being pronounced.
The appellate court’s opinion started by noting that the “underlying substantive question is whether the Village council had authority to remove plaintiff from the board of trustees for the Downers Grove public library prior to the expiration of his six-year term.”2 The court then noted that Downers Grove (the “Village”) is a home rule unit and has a commission form of government with an elected mayor and elected council. Among its various commissions and boards is the Village Library Board, which oversees the village library and was established pursuant to the Illinois Local Library Act (75 ILCS 5/1.01 et seq.) (the “Act”).3
The court reported that in August 2015, plaintiff was appointed to the library board for a six year term pursuant to the appointment power under section 4-2 of the Act.4 The court doesn’t mention it, but section 4-2 of the Act only applies to those villages under the commission form of government. This fact may be important because the commission form of villages is relatively rare in Illinois. Villages not under the commission form are governed by section 4-3 of the Act, which provides that village library trustees are elected.5 In addition, section 4-2 of the Act doesn’t apply to cities because cities are instead are governed by section 4-1 of the Act, which provides that library trustees are appointed by the mayor with approval of the city council.6
The key to the appellate court’s analysis is the examination of the role and purpose of section 4-4 of the Act, which pertains to “vacancies.” Plaintiff asserted that section 4-4 of the Act governs the removal of library trustees such that the Village’s authority to remove library trustees would be limited to the particular situations described in section 4-4.7 The court, rejecting plaintiff’s assertion, stated that section 4-4 of the Act lists situations in which a vacancy arises by operation of law, such that when one of those specific circumstances occurs, a vacancy must be declared.8 The court further noted that “section 4-4 does not speak at all to discretionary removal or to the creation of vacancies in situations other than those listed.”9 In this novel construction of section 4-4, which previously had been understood to be a limit on the circumstances leading to vacancy on the library boards, the court created a new category of reasons for the “discretionary removal of library trustees.”
Critical to the court’s reasoning was the premise that section 4-1.1(b), which authorizes the mayor of a city to remove a library trustee, must be presumed to not be a superfluous provision.10 Thus, such power to remove extends beyond the scenarios listed in section 4-4 of the Act. Accordingly, the list in section 4-4 is not exhaustive, and the legislature must not have intended section 4-4 to be a limitation on discretionary removal of a library trustee. It is important to mention that the court’s analysis noted that the library board members were not elected, but appointed by the village council, so section 4-2 did of the Act not apply. The court also found that the village’s removal ordinance did not “affect the balance between legislative and executive branches of the Village’s government.”11
However, while the appellate court’s opinion discussed the village’s home rule status and the role that such status played in some respects, such discussion may have been misdirected by the arguments asserted by the parties. That is, it is questionable whether Downers Grove’s status of home rule is even material to this situation. The opinion (and presumably the assertions of the parties) is completely silent on the impact of section 4-5-9 of the Act, which provides municipalities under the commission form (both home rule and non-home rule) specific authority for removal from office by vote of the majority of the council members. That is precisely what happened in this case and as set forth in the Village’s code ordinance.
Section 4-5-9 provides for any officers or employees elected or appointed by the council of municipalities under the commission form (with some exceptions), to be removed by a majority vote of the council members (again, as set forth in the local ordinance). Indeed, the provisions of the relevant local ordinance, section 2.53.1(b), are functionally the same as the authorization under section 4-5-9. Recognizing the application of section 4-5-9 would seem to eliminate the need to consider the home rule status of the Village, as even a non-home rule commission form of government communities have identical authority for removal under the Act and any local ordinance adopted. The appellate court spent more time discussing the provisions of section 3.1-35-10 of the Illinois Municipal Code, which pertain to removal of library trustees by mayors of cities (i.e., not villages like Downers Grove). These provisions clearly did not apply, even by analogy, to the facts before it, than it did to section 4-5-9 of the Act.12 Recognizing section 4-5-9 of the Act may have eliminated one third to one half of the court’s opinion, in which they discussed home rule status issues that may be immaterial to a proper analysis and conclusion.
As a final note, there are approximately 50 municipalities in Illinois with the commission form of government as reported by the Secretary of State listing. This listing doesn’t differentiate which of these are villages and which are cities, so for this note we will assume they are all villages. Of those 50 municipalities, there are seven that are home rule communities and only four of those have local libraries as opposed to public library district service. As for the non-home rule municipalities of these 50 with the commission form of government, it appears there are at least four of those with local public libraries. Whether or not the home rule status is material to or really a factor in the issue about removal of library board trustees in municipalities with commission governments, the impact would be minimal, as so few (i.e., eight of the hundreds of municipalities in Illinois) would be involved. As the appellate court noted, cities, as opposed to villages, whether or not they use the commission form, are controlled in the removal of library trustees by an entirely different statute—the Illinois Municipal Code.13
Practically speaking, the holding of this case is of a very narrow application as it only applies to those villages with the commission form of government, regardless of whether they are home rule. However, this decision suggests that a local village library board appointed by the municipality, which numerically is a very small number of communities, at the very least, will have the power and authority to remove a trustee from the board prior to the end of the original term.
4. Id. ¶ 4.
5. 75 ILCS 5/4-3.
6. 75 ILCS 5/4-1.
7. Id. ¶ 20.
8. Id. ¶ 23.
11. Id. ¶ 25.
12. Id. ¶ 18.
13. See 75 ILCS 5/4-1.1(b).