May 1, 2012 in City

Council revamps initiative process

City attorney input, fiscal statement needed
By The Spokesman-Review

A revamping of Spokane’s system of bringing initiative measures to the ballot won approval Monday night following several hours of testimony.

The divided council voted 4-3 in favor of an ordinance to require the city attorney’s office to write initiative ballot summaries. It also requires a fiscal statement on the cost of the measure.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said the measure will ensure that ballot initiatives are truthful.

Council members Steve Salvatori and Mike Fagan sponsored the changes.

Salvatori, Fagan, McLaughlin and Councilman Mike Allen voted in favor of the measure.

Until now, residents were not required to use the services of the city attorney to write their measures and ballot summary, and if the City Council were to make changes in the language, the entire petition could be invalidated or at least thrown into legal question.

Salvatori has argued that once the language is ironed out with the city attorney under the proposal approved Monday, proponents can gather signatures without facing a challenge or change.

It will also parallel state law and the initiative processes of other Washington cities, he said.

Fagan said he supported the measure because of a need to inform voters about the potential costs of an initiative.

Fagan acknowledged his role in campaigning for statewide initiatives with Tim Eyman.

Opponents of the change said the measure is going to curtail the right of citizens to go directly to the voters for signatures.

Envision Spokane brought two initiatives for a Community Bill of Rights to the ballot in 2009 and 2011, and lost in both efforts when voters said no. Group leaders said they want to bring the initiative to the ballot a third time in 2013.

“They refuse to listen to the people,” Kate McCaslin, a former Spokane County commissioner and resident of Spokane, said of Envision Spokane. She said the measure would make initiatives more transparent and fair.

Council President Ben Stuckart said involvement of the homebuilders organization in the initiative issue was troublesome.

Arguing in favor of maintaining the current system, Rick Evans said, “The city should welcome citizens to the process.”

A companion measure by Stuckart was defeated on a 3-4 vote. His measure had no requirement for a fiscal statement, and also would have allowed the City Council to rewrite the ballot title.

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