Knapp attended eight council meetings until mid-December when Mayor Pecaro sat down with Knapp in his kitchen to go over paperwork he needed to file to run for a full term on the council in this year's municipal election. That's when the two came across a loyalty oath and learned that "duh" you have to be a U.S. citizen.
Highwood Mayor Charlie Pecaro said he was in Knapp's kitchen going through paperwork when they came across a loyalty oath, in which candidates swear they are U.S. citizens.
"He said, 'Hey, wait a second.' I said, 'Are you kidding?'" Pecaro recalled. "Sheer panic ran through us."
Illinois Election Code requires municipal officials to be registered voters.
"You have to be a United States citizen in order to be a registered voter," said Brent Davis of the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Last fall, when former 1st Ward Ald. Quintin Sepulveda resigned, Pecaro said he asked Knapp to apply, and recommended him over another applicant. Knapp was approved unanimously after a second vote of the council.
"I was kind of excited to serve, and unfortunately I didn't really think about it, honestly. I don't really consider myself to be an immigrant at this point," said Knapp, who has lived in the U.S. for 23 years.
"There was no hiding it from anyone," he added. "It's pretty obvious when I open my mouth."
Pecaro said he never thought to ask.
"He's got little kids who go to school with my kids. He's been here forever," Pecaro said.I have to shake my head. How could Knapp believe that he could run for public office if he wasn't even eligible to become a registered voter because he wasn't a U.S. citizen? And more importantly, how could Mayor Pecaro have failed to check out Knapp's registered voting status before recommending his appointment? The Chicago Tribune wondered why it took more than two months for Knapp to resign once he learned he was ineligible to hold the office.
Knapp and Pecaro had different stories over why the alderman waited two months to resign. Knapp said he had a letter prepared but was waiting for the city attorney to determine whether it was necessary for him to resign. Pecaro said he couldn't have accepted Knapp's recommendation earlier because of missed City Council meetings and a communication delay related to an out-of-state family health emergency.
The explanation for Knapp missing council meetings probably lies in the fact that he manages a desert truck racing team in Henderson, Nevada, while living in Highwood, a fact noted at the time of his appointment, which should have raised concerns about his ability to perform his duties if his job required him to be out-of-state a lot.The council is expected to formally accept Knapp's resignation at its Thursday meeting.
There's a Charlie White angle to this story. So what happens to the votes Knapp cast as a council member, including setting the city's property tax levy?
Knapp's votes over the course of five meetings — including a vote in December to approve the city's 2012 tax levy — will still be considered valid, according to a confidential memo to the council from City Attorney James Ferolo, obtained by the Tribune.
The memo cites legal cases that say the votes of a "de facto" officer, or "one who actually performs the duties of the office with apparent right," are not retroactively considered invalid once the officer is determined to be unqualified to hold the seat.
"In sum, although it appears Alderman Knapp was never fully qualified or eligible to hold the office to which he was appointed, his actions taken under color of that appointment are nonetheless valid and effective," according to the memo.Did you read that Judge Steve Nation and Special Prosecutor Dan Sigler? "His actions taken under color of that appointment are nonetheless valid and effective." They're not demanding that Knapp be charged with theft or any other crime a overzealous prosecutor can pull out of his ass. That's the same law that apples in Indiana. White, you may recall, was charged by Sigler with committing theft by serving as a Fishers Town Council member for a few months after he had moved outside the district to which he was elected, even though White had actually returned the salary he drew during those months and had attended council meetings and otherwise performed his job under color of his election to that office. The Fisher's Town Council's attorney correctly interpreted Indiana law and wrote in a memo that White was under no obligation to return the salary he was paid and that his actions taken as a council member were valid and effective. Sigler ignored the pleas of White's attorney, Carl Brizzi, to drop the theft charge against White, and Judge Nation refused to grant his motion requesting the dismissal of the the theft charge. Knowing no better, the jury convicted White of committing theft.