Envision Spokane is pushing back against Mayor David Condon, who last week sued to keep the group’s Worker Bill of Rights from appearing on the city’s general election ballot in November.
In an official response to the city’s lawsuit, which was filed at Condon’s direction, the group argues that the mayor doesn’t have the authority to prevent the measure from reaching the ballot, and that only a supermajority of City Council members can block any initiative from appearing before voters.
Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, said Tuesday that Envision’s response is part of the typical court process, and the city will make its arguments in court. Superior Court Judge Salvatore Cozza will hear the case Thursday.
“We look forward to the hearing on Thursday,” Coddington said.
Condon’s suit came just a week after the Spokane City Council approved the measure for the ballot, albeit with two “advisory” questions. The questions, which were approved by a 4-3 vote, will basically ask voters if the city should raise taxes to pay for Envision’s measure or if other city services should be cut to pay for it.
The latest measure put forth by Envision Spokane – the group’s fourth to qualify for the ballot – would amend the city charter to require large employers to pay workers a “family wage,” ensure equal pay and add protections against termination. The measure would make the rights of a corporation secondary to people’s rights.
In April, the city’s hearing examiner reviewed the initiative, calling it “legally flawed.” The examiner’s written opinion called into question the measure’s fourth “right” regarding corporate powers, saying it exceeded “the jurisdictional limits of the initiative power.”
In the 19-page document filed with Spokane County Superior Court on Monday, Envision said Condon and the court had no authority to stop its initiative and “this is a political dispute to be resolved outside the courthouse.”
Pointing to the Spokane Municipal Code, Envision said Condon “seeks to interfere with the legislative process of both the Council and the people of Spokane, in violation of the theory of separation of powers and outside of the Mayor’s executive authority.”
City law states that “no challenge shall be filed by the city council unless at least five members of the city council vote to challenge the initiative or referendum measure.”
The law also states that the City Council and the city administration can challenge an initiative as illegal or unconstitutional, but only after it has adopted a resolution directing the county auditor to place the measure on the ballot.
Finally, Envision said that by allowing the mayor to prevent the measure from appearing on the ballot, the citizens’ right to govern themselves is trampled.
If the mayor is allowed to block a citizen-led initiative that he viewed as unconstitutional, Envision suggested, what would stop him from blocking an ordinance put forward by the City Council that he viewed as unconstitutional?
“Such an absurd result would allow interference by the executive directly into the pending legislative process – a result that the Mayor seeks in this case, to prevent the people of the City of Spokane from acting in their own legislative capacity, as envisioned by the initiative process,” the group wrote.
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