Mass transit dictrict vote lingers

By Joe Parrino

A bid by southwest Champaign residents to hold a referendum on the creation of its own transit district moved forward despite Wednesday’s legal challenges by the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District.

Chase Leonhard, associate judge for Champaign County’s 6th Circuit Court, denied MTD’s motion to reconsider his September order that the southwest Champaign district be put on the March 2006 ballot. The decision was made during a hearing Wednesday morning at the Champaign County Courthouse, 101 E. Main St., Urbana.

The motion failed because it only pointed out technical flaws in a petition filed by representatives of the affected neighborhoods, Leonhard said. It did not address the petition’s primary contention that residents retain the right to vote on which transit authority they wanted over them.

“Obviously, my client is very pleased that we’ll go forward with the referendum,” said Brett Kepley, the attorney for southwest Champaign resident Scott Tapley.

Tapley is a spokesman for the Southwest Mass Transit District Supporters Committee. In a press release before the Wednesday hearing, Tapley voiced confidence in Leonhard’s recognition of his community’s fundamental rights.

“We do not believe that the court will allow the C-U MTD to disenfranchise our voting rights,” the release stated.

Kepley said that Tapley strongly believes that a district created by a popular referendum has more authority than a district created by an annexation ordinance.

Leonhard also refrained from ruling on a motion to vacate the ballot order in the light of the fact that MTD annexed the neighborhoods that will vote.

The court may decide on that motion when he gives he summary judgment at a final hearing on Nov. 17, Leonhard said. But he expressed uncertainty as to whether the issue belonged in court.

“This may be more of a political matter than a legal one,” Leonhard said. “I don’t know if I have the authority to decide it.”

MTD’s attorneys said that the legal process was the appropriate path toward resolution.

“In most ways, we’re dealing with interpretations of statutes that can be decided in a court of law,” said Jack Waaler, a member of MTD’s legal team.

His partner, Marc Ansel, said that MTD scored some points in the legal battle despite its motions being unsuccessful.

“The court’s comments showed that it recognized having integrated services was preferable to multiple districts,” Ansel said.