08 August 2008

August 12 Special Municipal Election: More on Denver Referred Question 1A

In a follow up to my earlier post this week about Referred Question 1A that appears on Denver ballots, a reader emailed to say that after calling Denver's City Council, she got "confirmation that we'll receive the 'for and against stands' in the Nov election."

This gets confusing, though, because I thought that 1A, as we see it on the August 12 ballot, is the vote for or against this amendment to the charter, and not a vote to approve a November vote to amend the charter.

A phone call to Shelley Smith at the Denver City Council office reinforced my understanding. This is the vote. My original post (based on info also received from the city council office) was that the city council doesn't approve or reject, but simply reviews these petition items. Therefore, these items will go to the voters anyway, so why waste city council time reviewing/debating? Well, that was only half the story. Here's the rest.

It turns out that the city council is required to enact a petition item or make a ministerial vote in favor of putting said petition item before the voters. City council thinks this is ludicrous. These petitions were initiated outside the bounds of the city council, and so the city council doesn't understand why council members should have anything to do with the petitions at all. If the voters want to sign a petition to vote on something, the city council essentially says "let 'em vote. Whaddya need us for?"

The League of Women Voters adds to the conversation. Here's what they've published (click through for a .pdf):

Currently, residents must gather enough signatures to exceed 5 percent of the votes cast in the previous mayoral election to force the council to take up a measure.

Once that threshold is passed, which is currently about 4,000 signatures, then the council is required to either enact the proposal into law or submit it to voters.

The council has prepared this charter amendment to refer measures with enough signatures directly to voters and bypass the council entirely, similar to the process for State referred initiatives.

Those in favor say: Several council members believe the current structure places them in a precarious position politically because it requires them to affirmatively vote to place something on the ballot, even measures they dislike.

Those opposed say: There is no organized opposition.
Emphasis mine. The problem, as the LWV explained to me, is in the way the current charter binds city council to either a) enact an item brought by petition, or b) pass said item to the voters. There is no room to halt an item's progress, nor to express a vote of no confidence in a proposal or initiative brought by petition. In a nutshell, city council politicians are beholden to advance an item even if they disagree with it. And this is what the city council wants to get away from.

One interesting con: Smith says that, though there is no record of the city council doing so in the past thirty years, conceivably when a petition comes before the city council and bears a strikingly good idea, the city council has the means to enact it on the spot, thus saving the taxpayers money by not putting the petitioned item on the ballot.

Finally, a yes vote on 1A on August 12 will change the city charter to mirror that of the state. For whatever that's worth.

Anyone care to chip in?