Darlene Heslop dropped her petition challenge against incument District 205 School Board candidate Jim Collins and newcomer Emily Bastedo Friday. Her only comment on the subject is that she will pay for all legal costs incurred in this challenge, as well as her challenge to Alderman Pat Wagner in his re-election campaign for the 7th Ward. The challenge against Wagner was dismissed Monday.
But Collins shared some details of the now-moot school board candidate challenge Friday afternoon.
"I think it's important that this get out in public so people understand the issues (Heslop) was raising," Collins said.
He said Heslop's main objection was related to an Illinois statute that actually applies only to partisan elections. Unknown to Collins, he and Bastedo both used the same person to help them gather petitions for their races. The state statute is clear that petition gatherers can only work for one candidate in a partisan race.
"That would not be allowed if she were the Democrat and I were the Republican in the race, but we're two people running for School Board in a nonpartisan election, and that's completely legal and completely allowed," Collins said. "In a nonpartisan race like school board, especially when it's vote for three, somebody can go out and gather signatures for as many candidates as they'd like."
Collins added that he has not met Bastedo and didn't know they were using the same person to gather signatures. Even if all the signatures obtained by the third party were disqualified, he still would have had enough to remain on the ballot, he said.
"(Heslop) was not asking that I be removed from the ballot," he said.
He said Heslop also questioned nine of Bastedo's signatures, claiming they were not registered voters.
"But Emily Bastedo obtained an affidavit from the county Election Board certifying that all nine of those signatures were registered voters at the addresses they claimed," Collins said. "So there were no signature violations on either one of our sets of petitions."
Collins said he hasn't talked to Heslop in nearly four years, since he last ran for School Board in 2009.
"She was very supportive of me when I ran for School Board," he said. "I don't interpret Darlene's actions as 'anti-me.' I can't imagine she's 'anti-Emily.' Someone suggested she was working for (one of the other candidates). Frankly, I can't imagine that is the issue. Only Darlene can tell you what's on her mind."
Heslop declined comment on the challenge, itself. With regard to the cost, she said she had always planned to reimburse both the city and the School District but had planned to do it privately.
"Please assure everyone that I had intended all along to pay for whatever expenses were incurred," she said by email. "I just didn't want to make a big deal of it all."
The costs are not fully known at this point.
"I have to wait for the legal departments of both the city and the School District to receive the statements from their attorneys," Heslop said.
Collins said School District lawyers spent "quite a bit of time" on the challenge.
"Once a protest like this is filed, the law is very specific on what must be done," he said. "The district certainly didn't want to violate the law."
He said everyone involved had to be served papers from the DuPage Sheriff's Office, and lawyers had scripted some of the dialog for Electoral Board Chairman Maria Hirsch to read at the hearing, among other things.
"It had to be very exacting the way the hearing was conducted," Collins said.
He said he sensed no ill will on the part of Heslop toward any of the candidates, but he is concerned that such challenges deter qualified candidates from running for School Board. He said for this election, initially only two candidates filed to run for the three open positions.
"We frankly panicked a little bit," he said. "We scrambled to find qualified candidates that would put their name in."
He said it's difficult to talk people into running for School Board.
"A School Board member puts in hundreds of hours a year. There's no pay, there's no pension, there's just criticism," he said. "These people are doing this as volunteers. To think that School Board candidates get that packet, do the best they can to get the signatures required and then every one of them would have to have a lawyer go through it for fear that they would be knocked off the ballot—nobody's going to run for School Board in our town.
"I have to say I consider it a pretty important job. We need absolutely the best possible people in that position, and this is just a deterrent."
He said it's unfortunate that board members Maria Hirsch and Susan DeRonne have chosen not to run again, "but we need to fill their shoes with people with the same dedication," he said.
"I think all the candidates running are committed, qualified people. Elmhurst is very lucky in this election. Every single candidate is very qualified."
Also running for School Board seats in the April 9 Consolidated Election are Alan Brinkmeier and Margaret Harrell.
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