Tuesday, September 4, 2007
INDEPENDENCE -- The city council may vote next week on a proposed ordinance that outlines Independence's election process for initiatives and referendums.
A new time frame for signature gathering on petitions and the inclusion of explanatory statements on ballots are among the key changes.
The council did a first reading of the ordinance during its last meeting. It can be viewed in the Aug. 28 council packet at www.ci.independence.or.us.
Independence - like many small cities - does not have its own specific election code.
Instead, it applies general election laws in the Oregon constitution to local candidate and other election matters, said Karin Johnson, city recorder.
Johnson said the impetus for the change came when she proposed adding a code provision to the city charter to include measure explanatory statements in local voters pamphlets.
The 500 word description would explain the measure and its effects. State law allows such statements only if a city has adopted an ordinance.
City Attorney Rich Rodeman instead recommended a comprehensive code relating to the entire initiative process.
Johnson said the new code includes the measure explanatory text and mirrors current state law, with a few differences.
Individuals who want to file must be residents of the city; Oregon law doesn't expressly state that.
Petitions must contain signatures from 15 percent or more of the community's registered voters at the date the initiative or referendum was filed in order to appear on the ballot, according to statute.
The code changes that time specification to Jan. 1 of the year the petition was filed. The 15 percent or more benchmark remains the same.
"The number of voters could change over time using the old way," Johnson said. "This way, the amount stays the same no matter what time you file ... and I'll be able to tell a person exactly how many people he or she is going to need to get signatures from at the beginning of the process."
Finally, the code gives a chief petitioner six months to collect signatures from the date he or she received approval to start the gathering process.
"The only provision in state law is that 30 days from the one-year anniversary of the date the petition was approved, I have to contact the circulator to see if it's still active," Johnson said. "Theoretically, they could gather signatures for as long as they want or need to."
Johnson said none of these election scenarios have been problems in recent years.
The proposal comes at a time when two initiative petitions are being circulated.
One calls for the creation of an independent police review board, and the other, to require the municipal court to provide a legal record of testimony given during hearings.
Kevin Sicard, the chief petitioner, received approval to gather signatures on April 19.
In written testimony to the city council, he expressed concern that the new code would nullify his goal of getting the initiatives included on the Nov. 2008 ballot.
"It creates a more restrictive initiative and referendum process than currently is allowed in Independence," Sicard wrote, adding that the council should let residents vote on the issue.
"The current initiative process has served Independence well," he wrote, "leave it alone or at least get the approval of voters
before changing it."
Johnson said she was waiting to hear from legal counsel what effect an adopted code would have on Sicard's current petition-gathering effort - whether he would be allowed to operate under the old rules or when the six-month window would go into effect.
Regarding the claim that the code is more restrictive because of the six-month provision, Johnson said "it is more restrictive, but by the same token, I feel that six months is an ample amount of time to gather the necessary signatures."