Voters should have a say on two controversial citizens’ initiatives, the Spokane City Council decided Monday.
The 4-3 vote opposing lawsuits to stop votes in November was a victory for the two groups who collected enough signatures to force their measures onto the ballot.
But it also was bittersweet for supporters of Envision Spokane and Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution at best, as all seven council members used much of their comment time to slam their initiatives.
Councilman Jon Snyder, after detailing reasons he opposes the initiatives, said he wants voters to have a say, in part, because rejection from the people would be a more powerful statement than rejection from a judge. Council President Ben Stuckart said he didn’t want to spend city money filing a legal challenge because he is confident “the people are going to do what’s right and vote no.”
The council considered two nonbinding resolutions requesting that the mayor file lawsuits asking a judge to consider tossing the two initiatives from the ballot. That was after the council voted unanimously to place the initiatives on the ballot, something city attorneys said it had little choice to do because supporters properly followed the initiative rules.
The outcome was an unusual alliance as Councilman Mike Fagan, arguably the council’s most conservative member, joined the Democratic-leaning minority.
Fagan is co-director of Voters Want More Choices, which often places anti-tax initiatives on the statewide ballot. Another co-director, Tim Eyman, testified in opposition to challenging the initiative.
Brad Read, Envision’s president, labeled the evening “theater of the absurd,” in part because he was agreeing with Eyman, a hero to many conservatives.
The vote puts Mayor David Condon in an awkward spot, because no matter how the council voted, he will have the final say.
Envision’s Community Bill of Rights would force developers to seek voter signatures to win approval for certain kinds of development, potentially make lawsuits aimed at stopping pollution in the Spokane River more likely to succeed by giving the river the legal right to “exist and flourish,” boost union rights and challenge the rights of corporations.
The other initiative is sponsored by Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution. It would ban corporate donations to city political campaigns and would ban employees of any corporation from speaking to a city official about proposed legislation or ballot initiative on behalf of the corporation unless it was done in a public forum.
Supporters of mounting a legal challenge said citizens should have a right before they vote to know if it’s constitutional. They also said a legal challenge after a vote could be more expensive.
“As a council, we are put in office to safeguard the citizens,” Councilman Mike Allen said.
Before the meeting, about 35 people joined a rally in front of City Hall supporting the right of the people to vote.
Most wore T-shirts printed from Envision Spokane or Spokane Moves to Amend. Eyman was alone in his red “Let the Voters Decide” shirt.
Eyman said he would not vote for either initiative. But he stood with the liberal groups in support of their rights to let voters vote.