Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at

With a unanimous ruling, the Illinois Supreme Court allowed Rock Falls leaders – and municipal officials statewide – a sigh of relief.

As explored here in November, City of Rock Falls v. Aims Industrial Services reached the top court following an October 2022 ruling of the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court. Shaw Media’s Kathleen Schultz wrote an excellent, detailed analysis (available at but the distilled version is simple: In 2017, Aims bought land in Rock Falls but didn’t comply with a city ordinance that required connecting to the public sewer system.

In 2019, Rock Falls asked Whiteside County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Steines to fine Aims and issue a court order forcing the company to make the sewer connection. Although Steines agreed with Aims, essentially ruling the costs to Aims would be excessive, the appeals panel and now the state’s top court said Steines shouldn’t have looked beyond one factual question: did the company comply with the ordinance?

In other words, the conversations about whether the ordinance is fair or smartly constructed are left in the past, before the city enacted the rule. Aims argued it would’ve cost almost $160,000 to make the typical sewer connection or only $51,455 for an “unusual” method, and that it might not have bought the land if those costs were mandatory, but those points all are immaterial to the city’s position: it mandated a sewer hookup at owner expense and the owner refused.

That’s a win for local control. The city enacted its rule for its own reasons, then enforced the ordinance through its provided means. Although the larger legal issues are (as usual) more complex, the ruling effectively lets municipalities continue to set policies without fear of lawsuits over costs of compliance.

Keeping up with health and safety codes can be expensive, and the government isn’t exactly slowing down. On the same day as the court’s ruling, state Rep. Martin McLaughlin, R-Barrington Hills, introduced House Bill 4521, which amends the 1969 Child Care Act by requiring licensed day care centers to maintain video security systems. Allowing for state and local distinctions, the big picture similarity is that the time to debate prudence and affordability is before officials enact a law.

Constitutional arguments are and should be a different story. Legislative bodies have to operate under some type of framework and cannot have the presumption that any law passed is inherently legal. But a ruling against Rock Falls could’ve established conditions for all manner of litigation challenging long-established rules as unfair or onerous, enabling judges to revisit whether duly elected officials acted wisely in writing ordinances.

It’s good these opportunities for review exist. Thankfully the court landed on the side of letting city councils do their jobs.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @sth749. He can be reached at