Readers may have gathered from my preceding posts (here, here and here) on the Charter Review Committee recommendations and the proposed charter amendments that has issued from the CRC’s work, but the more recommendations that were more political (for lack of a better descriptive) in nature were separated into discrete ballot measures. The rest of the recommendations – mainly streamlining-oriented charter changes sought by city staff — were assembled together in a single ballot measure (the proposed Measure 1).
That was the source of some discussion on Tuesday night. Citing the state’s “single subject rule” for statewide ballot initiatives, Mayor Tom Tait expressed his preference for putting each item in Measure 1 into a separate ballot measure for the sake of clarity and transparency. That has the downside of crowding the ballot with so many measures that they fail under their own weight.
City Attorney Michael Houston pointed out that ballot measures placed before voters by city councils are exempt from the single-subject rule, although the council could certainly apply that rule of its own volition. He provided direction on how Measure 1 could be separated into three different ballot measures, but believed a strong case could be made that Measure 1, as drafted, conformed to the single-subject standard because they are “reasonably germane” to the topic at hand – namely the restructuring and modernization of city government.
Ultimately, the council went with the staff recommendation and opted to place Measure 1 on the ballot (with Mayor Tait dissenting).
I think splitting Measure 1 up to permit greater clarity in communicating the nature of the changes in the ballot summaries would better serve to interests of enabling voters to make an informed choice.
It’s my understanding from sources that Councilwoman Kris Murray would like to re-visit this issue at the next council meeting, particularly in regard to placing the recommendation regarding the utility rate transfer to retail rates on a separate ballot measure. Given state law and the nature of the utility rate item, I don’t think it would be allowed on the June ballot and could only be placed on the November ballot. Hopefully the council will arrive at a better resolution of the matter on February 18.
UPDATE: I’ve learned that city staff will be bringing cleaned up versions of all the proposed measures back to the February 18 council meeting. The utility rate issue triggers Prop. 218, necessitating that being a stand alone measure. It’s my understanding that due to the manner in which the implementing resolutions were adopted on Tuesday, all of the measures will have to be voted on again, and it’s likely Measure 1 will be divided up into a few ballot measures.
UPDATE 2: It now appears only only Measure 1 will be brought back to the city council on Feb. 18, not all four measures.