Our View: If petition succeeds, let the people vote
October 21, 2009
A group of citizens took the first steps Tuesday toward enacting their constitutionally protected right to petition government. Kudos to them for taking an active role in our democracy. We now hope the next Steamboat Springs City Council will allow the referendum process to run its due course and not circumvent it by repealing last week’s ordinance annexing the controversial Steamboat 700 project.
The five-person petition committee that formed Tuesday hopes to collect thousands of signatures from registered city of Steamboat Springs voters by Nov. 12, the deadline for filing a petition with the city. However, the group needs only 829 signatures, a number equal to 10 percent of the total number of registered voters in the city’s 2007 municipal election.
Cindy Constantine, the petition committee’s chairwoman, said her group simply wants to ask residents, “Would you like the opportunity to vote on the recent decision made by City Council to annex Steamboat 700?”
If enough valid signatures are collected, the City Council can take one of two actions: repeal the Steamboat 700 annexation ordinance without taking it to a vote of the people, or submit the referendum to the voters to let them decide whether the ordinance should be repealed.
If the process makes it that far, we think the City Council should allow it to run its due course and culminate in a public vote, likely to take place in January or February. Per the annexation agreement, Steamboat 700 will pay for the costs associated with having the election.
What the next City Council shouldn’t do is vote to repeal the ordinance without allowing a vote of the people. We’d be surprised if the next council, whatever its makeup, would take that step. Three of the returning council members voted yes on last week’s annexation ordinance and would be unlikely to repeal the ordinance. One of the no votes, Meg Bentley, initially suggested a motion to put the annexation to a public vote. A second no vote, Cari Hermacinski, said Tuesday she would support putting the issue to a vote if the requisite number of signatures were collected. And several other candidates running for City Council have voiced support for a public vote on Steamboat 700.
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This Editorial Board has gone on record in its support of the annexation of Steamboat 700, and we have said on more than one occasion that the current City Council – which has spent nearly two years working on the annexation proposal with the city’s staff and negotiating team – was the group best prepared to make an informed decision on a project of Steamboat 700’s complexity. We still believe that to be the case, but we also respect and defend the legal right of citizens to petition their government.
If indeed there are enough registered voters in Steamboat Springs who want the Steamboat 700 annexation project to go to a public vote, and they demonstrate that commitment by signing petitions, then that process absolutely should be granted to them. Should the mail-only election take place sometime early next year, we urge all Steamboat voters to take the time to educate themselves on the Steamboat 700 project and vote with the best future interests of the community in mind. Our hope is that an informed electorate and a citizen-initiated vote of the people will bring about a conclusion we all can accept.
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