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Hearing set for controversial city initiatives

Sat., July 27, 2013

Judge turns down injunction request, wants to learn more Aug. 23

A Spokane County judge on Friday declined to stop two city initiatives from going to the ballot this fall – at least for now.

Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno rejected a request for a preliminary injunction against the two measures, and instead set a hearing on the challenge for Aug. 23.

Two groups – Envision Spokane and Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution – are seeking to place two measures before city voters that would change the way local businesses and government function.

The measures have enough voter signatures to qualify.

A coalition of economic development interests and Spokane County commissioners has sued to prevent them from going to voters.

Moreno said she wants to hear further from both sides before deciding whether to allow the balloting to go forward.

Envision Spokane is seeking adoption of a Community Bill of Rights to give neighbors more control over development projects and to stop pollution of the Spokane River. The initiative would bolster union rights while challenging corporate rights.

Similar measures were rejected in 2009 and 2011, but the 2011 initiative won 49 percent of the vote.

The second measure by Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution would prohibit employees of any corporation from speaking to a city official about proposed legislation or ballot initiatives on behalf of the corporation unless it was done in a public forum.

Rob Maguire, attorney for the coalition, said the threat of the initiatives is already causing economic harm by placing a cloud of uncertainty over economic development. The initiatives also would change long-standing laws, including the City Charter, and the rights of the City Council. They go well beyond the scope of a local initiative, he said.

The judge pointed out that the city is not seeking to stop the measures and that the constitutionality of the initiatives is not an issue for her to decide.

“What’s the harm of putting this on the ballot?” Moreno asked.

Michael Whipple, attorney for Envision, said the claim that his group’s initiative would cause economic harm is speculative. “This is about public participation,” Whipple said.

Terry Sawyer, attorney for SMAC, said his group’s initiative won a 4-3 vote before the City Council to send the measure to voters.

He argued that the issue is a power struggle between citizens and corporate interests. The initiative is free speech and a right, he said.

“The lobbyists want to be able to meet these people (government officials) in secret,” Sawyer said.

An attorney for the city said the city’s silence on the legal challenge is not acquiescence.

An attorney for Spokane County said the deadline for changing the Nov. 5 ballot is Sept. 4.

Plaintiffs in the challenge are Spokane County, Spokane Entrepreneurial Center, Downtown Spokane Partnership, Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Spokane Building Owners and Managers Association, Spokane Association of Realtors, Spokane Homebuilders Association, Inland Pacific Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, Avista Corp., Pearson Packaging Systems, Tom Powers, William Butler and Neil Muller.

Two Spokane City Council members, Mike Allen and Nancy McLaughlin, are also plaintiffs.

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