Thanks to Jenny Manning for her invitation to keep a blog on Renton Patch. I enjoy the Patch, and look forward to this additional way to interact with the public. I am starting my new blog by reposting the following entry from my personal journal located at randycorman.com. ________________________________________
First, two quick disclaimers: (1) my preference would be to keep the downtown library over the river (as I explained here ), so I carry a bias; (2) I am not a lawyer, so I read and understand laws the way a typical legislator or citizen reads them-- And I can not give legal advice.
Now, on to my understanding of the current library situation.
Fifteen percent of Renton's registered voters have signed a petition asking for an election to decide the location of the downtown library. The County auditor has verified the signatures, and the petition now is now going to come back to Renton City Council for action. With such a petition, we are ordinarily supposed to send it to the ballot for a vote of the people, or adopt the ordinance the petition calls for.
The Renton City Attorney and an attorney hired by the Petitioners are battling one another over the constitutionality of the ordinance proposed by the petition (see their conflicting memos near the bottom of this entry). The City Administration has suggested that the City Attorney's doubts about the wording are a reason for the council to not send the petition to the ballot. But it seems clear to me that the constitutionality of the petition is an issue for the courts to decide, not the city council. The RCW (state law) tells me (as councilmember) to do as follows:
RCW 35A.11.100 Initiative and referendum — Exercise of powers. Except as provided in RCW 35A.11.090, and except that the number of registered voters needed to sign a petition for initiative or referendum shall be fifteen percent of the total number of names of persons listed as registered voters within the city on the day of the last preceding city general election, the powers of initiative and referendum in noncharter code cities shall be exercised in the manner set forth for the commission form of government in RCW 35.17.240 through 35.17.360, as now or hereafter amended.
[1973 1st ex.s. c 81 § 3.] RCW 35.17.260 Legislative — Ordinances by initiative petition. Ordinances may be initiated by petition of registered voters of the city filed with the commission. If the petition accompanying the proposed ordinance is signed by the registered voters in the city equal in number to twenty-five percent of the votes cast for all candidates for mayor at the last preceding city election (Randy's note: this is 15 percent of registered voters in a code-city such as Renton...see above), and if it contains a request that, unless passed by the commission, the ordinance be submitted to a vote of the registered voters of the city, the commission shall either: (1) Pass the proposed ordinance without alteration within twenty days after the county auditor's certificate of sufficiency has been received by the commission; or (2) Immediately after the county auditor's certificate of sufficiency for the petition is received, cause to be called a special election to be held on the next election date, as provided in *RCW 29.13.020, that occurs not less than forty-five days thereafter, for submission of the proposed ordinance without alteration, to a vote of the people unless a general election will occur within ninety days, in which event submission must be made on the general election ballot. [1996 c 286 § 4; 1965 c 7 §35.17.260 . Prior: 1911 c 116 § 21, part; RRS § 9110, part.]
I don't see anything which tells me to make a ruling on the constitutionality of the wording of the ordinance in the petition. As far as I can tell, such judicial-style rulings are neither a state-granted power of the council nor an area of expertise of the council. If we do not put the petitioner's requested ordinance on the ballot, or adopt an ordinance as requested by the petitioners, the RCW spells out a remedy for the citizens as follows:
RCW 35.17.290 Legislative — Initiative petition — Appeal to court. If the clerk finds the petition insufficient or if the commission refuses either to pass an initiative ordinance or order an election thereon, any taxpayer may commence an action in the superior court against the city and procure a decree ordering an election to be held in the city for the purpose of voting upon the proposed ordinance if the court finds the petition to be sufficient.
In summary, regardless of how one feels about the library location or the wording of the petition, I don't see any place in the RCW that instructs council to arbitrarily decide not to either hold the election or adopt an ordinance because we don't like or agree with the petition wording. Like we've frequently seen in state-wide initiatives, the constitutionality of the wording would normally be decided by a court (if there is still a dispute) AFTER the election, and only if the ballot measure prevails. Our only decision as a council is whether to adopt the petitioner's proposed action, or forward it to the ballot.
Here is the Renton City Attorney's memo: Cityattoneymemo
Here is the memo from the Petitioner's attorney: cedarriverlibraryattorney
If any of you readers see this differently (including you attorneys out there), please let me know in the comment section. Thanks, Randy