Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Lowdown On Port Orchard's Code City Fiasco

There has been quite a bit of news coverage recently about the proposed change in the form of Port Orchard's City government from a Second Class City to a Code City, which the City Council had approved in May. Out of the 281 Cities in the state, only 11 second class cities remain.

There is no difference in the way we would do business with our citizens, or in the transparency of our City government. The main difference is in how we do business with the state. Being a Code City allows us to choose our own destiny, and not be under the state’s thumb as second class cities are. That’s all there really is to it.

However, a small group of citizens supporting my election opponent began a petition to call for a vote on this issue. Neither myself, nor the council had any problem with that. In fact, I would have signed the petition myself if someone had just asked me.

The problem comes in the fact the originators of the petition didn’t submit the required number of signatures to the City in time for them to be validated by the county Auditor, so the question could be placed on the November ballot. If they had, it would have cost about $5000 — normal for a ballot measure during a general election — and something we budget for.

Since they didn’t, it would have been placed on the February election ballot — at a cost possibly as high as $45,000. To avoid this, the City Council rescinded the resolution to change to a Code City.

However, what is most disturbing to me is that once originators of the petition missed the deadline, they then publicly accused the city of intentionally withholding critical information from them about when the signatures were due.

That is patently false.

And because of that accusation, I feel compelled to respond to the misstatements and half-truths set forth by the originators of the petition in a blog posting in the Port Orchard Independent on August 17.

They publicly blamed “new administrative procedures” set forth by the City for their failure to submit the petition in time for the November ballot.

That too is a lie.

There were no “new” procedures of any kind, nor have they identified any such “procedures.” The petition process is governed by state law and those requirements have been unchanged for years. The truth is, the originators of the petition never even talked to the City Clerk about deadlines — or anything at all to do with the petition — until after August 16.

The petition originators wrote, “...we still have no documentable information” concerning the August 1 deadline — which is when the signatures were actually due. This is a red herring. The night before they posted this comment in the Independent, the City Attorney explained to the petition originators at great length how the August 1 deadline was determined.

The bottom line is, for the referendum question to have made the November ballot, state law required the Council to adopt a resolution no later then August 16. The Council’s regular meeting was August 9. The next meeting was August 23 — after the deadline. Signatures needed to be submitted to the City Clerk a week before the meeting date so they could be sent to the County Auditor for verification.

This is not a new procedure. As a long-time planning commission member, one of the petition originators should have been well aware of this requirement — some form of which is shared by every city in the state.

The petitioners claim, “Twice the City was asked, prior to the passage of the resolution, to place this matter on the ballot.” This is only partially true.

A total of four people testified at the two public hearings we held. The same petition originator asked this at both hearings — although no one else did. Is it any wonder that the Council concluded the public saw this issue as a matter to be left for Council action?

Finally, what should be the very first question anyone undertaking such a petition effort would normally ask? Wouldn’t it be, “When are the signatures due, and to who?” This makes me wonder if all the accusations aren’t little more than a smokescreen to hide the fact that on August 1, the petition originators had only 93 unverified signatures. They needed approximately 250 verified signatures by August 9, to place this question on the November ballot.

It is not the City’s fault that the organizers of the petition did not perform the proper due diligence. Frankly, I believe they need to take responsibility for their failure to do their homework about the due date. I also believe they owe the City Clerk a public apology for falsely accusing her of hiding information, in what appears to me to be a blatant attempt to cover up their mistakes.

I’m certain the Council will reconsider the change to a Code City at a later date, as they feel very strongly that the change is needed. However, when that will be, is still in question.

1 comment:

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