A legal review of citizen initiatives filed in Spokane has been proposed by city leaders as a way to bring “certainty, clarity and transparency” to a form of participatory democracy that Washingtonians helped usher into American politics more than 100 years ago.
Standing side by side at City Hall, Spokane Mayor David Condon and Council President Ben Stuckart announced Wednesday they would work to amend the city’s initiative process by adding a “quasi-judicial” legal review of the initiatives by the city’s hearing examiner, a position currently held by Brian McGinn.
“The point of this is to be more efficient and provide information to voters early in the citizen initiative process,” Condon said.
If approved by the City Council, the legal review of the initiatives would begin before signatures are gathered. The hearing examiner would issue an opinion within 14 days, and the initiative sponsor would then have one week to notify the clerk if they wanted to revise the initiative or move on to gathering signatures.
A negative determination by the examiner wouldn’t prevent the sponsor from gathering signatures, but it would give the city a basis for any legal challenge if the initiative proceeded.
Under the current ordinance, the council can request a legal review by a city attorney. With the proposed change, the hearing examiner would review every initiative, taking any suggestion of politics out of the process, Stuckart said.
“There will be no taint to the process,” Stuckart said. “I’ve been here two years, and I’ve not heard one complaint about the hearing examiner.”
Two initiatives currently headed to the ballot, Envision Spokane’s Community Bill of Rights and an initiative against corporate lobbying from Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution, will not be affected by the ordinance. The proposals already face a legal challenge from a group of business organizations, Spokane County and three council members: Nancy McLaughlin, Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori.
Stuckart did not join his peers in the legal challenge, saying he has a “huge problem with that because it was interfering with the process.”