Category Archives: politicians

An Easy Fix?

Tacoma, WA

Alex Hays recently submitted signatures for a ballot measure which will change the city government. The ballot measure proposes a strong mayor form of government. But he made a mistake.

But there was one mistake. In an effort to redraft the city charter, there was mix up and Hays accidentally removed a section of the charter that gives people the power to create initiatives and referendums. If passed, this initiative would take that power away from people in Tacoma.

“We reacted to the city’s request that we put together a different version. They wanted the entire charter reproduced. That made it a little harder to get right and unfortunately that created a chance for this mistake to occur,” said Hays.

Now the city is claiming nothing can be done.

Citizens signed this petition and the measure should appear as signed by citizens. However, if the city council sincerely wants to retain the initiative and referendum portion of the charter (and offer that choice to voters,) they can craft a ballot question that will do the same changes as the petition submitted by Hays, but include the initiative section of the charter. Then the ballot title should make clear what each charter amendment includes:

  • Strong mayor, tighter term limits, and no initiative and referendum.
  • Strong mayor, tighter term limits, and keep initiative and referendum.

The issue getting the highest number of votes would be approved, unless neither ballot question gets over 50% and no changes would be made. I hope the city council acts quickly to ensure voters have this option.

 

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, referendum, Term limits

Tax Cap In Ocean City Maryland

The city attorney in Ocean City does not think citizens are allowed to petition for a tax cap. He’s basing his opinion on a tax rollback restriction. However, it is unlikely the court will decide until the city confirms enough petition signatures were submitted.

According to Charter Amendment Procedures for Maryland Municipalities, “the residents of an incorporated city or town may initiate an amendment to a municipal charter by gathering the signatures of at least 20 percent of qualified municipal voters on a petition in the same fashion that a charter amendment approved by a municipal governing body may be petitioned to referendum.”

Once the appropriate number of signatures is verified, the Town of Ocean City will be required to conduct the referendum within 90 days or at the next scheduled election, which is in November of 2016.

“I suspect that there may be some litigation over this petition, and the court is not going to reach a determination if the petition has not been verified with the requisite number of signatures,” Ayres said. “The issue is with the substance of the petition. In my opinion, the substance of the petition violates Section 6-303 of the Tax Property Article of the Maryland Code Annotated. The substance of the petition would amend the charter, so your ability to tax would be capped at the 2009 level of taxes, and that is known as a ‘tax rollback.’ In the case of Board of Election Supervisors vs. Smallwood … the court had ruled tax rollbacks are not proper charter material and violate Section 6-303.”

The Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to request the Board of Elections verify the number of signatures on the petition.

 

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, referendum

Reform Or Restriction

Disclosure of funding, should petitions require a higher standard than candidates? One San Diego city council member thinks they should.

At a special session of the City Council, meeting as a “committee of the whole,” Gloria will propose a package of regulations that require that petition advertisements identify the top two donors contributing to the drive; impose tighter deadlines for publicly reporting petition campaign contributions and expenses; and revamp the rules on how petitions are formatted

It’s easy for legislators to propose new regulations like these for petitions, they don’t bear the costs. New formatting rules will mean paying attorneys more to draft petitions. These types of regulations are always added to protect us from big money special interests, but they result in making the process more difficult and sometimes impossible for volunteers and small money drives. Big money special interests can pay for lobbyists, they can pay for attorneys to wade through the regulations. Volunteers and grassroots will be the ones tripped up by this law, they don’t have funding to pay CPAs and attorneys to prepare campaign finance reports or spend hours designing new petition templates.

It’s also a bit hypocritical, does councilman Todd Gloria put the names of his two biggest campaign donor on each piece of legislation he proposes? That’s a reform people might want to see.

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, politicians, referendum, transparency

Confused Voters Rarely Vote Yes

Anyone who works ballot question campaigns will tell you, confusing language almost always results in votes against the question. Ballot titles are a big deal. If voters don’t understand they will often vote it down because they don’t understand it. I’ve written about misleading ballot titles here.

What do you think of these recent ballot titles?

San Antonio, Texas, Voters approved an amendment to require public votes before allowing for light rail or streetcar track.

SHALL THE CITY CHARTER BE AMENDED TO PROVIDE THAT NO GRANT OF PERMISSION TO ALTER OR DAMAGE ANY PUBLIC WAY OF THE CITY FOR THE LAYING OF STREETCAR OR LIGHT RAIL TRACKS SHALL EVER BE VALID, AND NO FUNDS SHALL BE APPROPRIATED AND NO BONDS OR NOTES SHALL BE ISSUED OR SOLD FOR THE PURPOSE OF STREETCAR OR LIGHT RAIL SYSTEMS, UNLESS FIRST APPROVED BY A MAJORITY OF THE QUALIFIED ELECTORS OF THE CITY VOTING AT AN ELECTION CONTAINING A PROPOSITION SPECIFICALLY IDENTIFIED FOR AND LIMITED TO SUCH PURPOSE?

Yes or No

Some reports claimed this was confusing, but voters approved it by about 2-1.

 

Arlington, Texas, Voters approve a ban on red light cameras.

Addition of Section 12 of Article X of the City Charter to prohibit photographic traffic signal enforcement.

For or Against

I consider this a little more confusing. Voters approved it 59% to 41%

 

Michigan voters denied a tax increase measure to fund roads.

A proposal to amend the State Constitution to increase the sales/use tax from 6% to 7% to replace and supplement reduced revenue to the School Aid Fund and local units of government caused by the elimination of the sales/use tax on gasoline and diesel fuel for vehicles operating on public roads, and to give effect to laws that provide additional money for roads and other transportation purposes by increasing the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

The proposed constitutional amendment would:
• Eliminate sales / use taxes on gasoline / diesel fuel for vehicles on public roads.
• Increase portion of use tax dedicated to School Aid Fund (SAF).
• Expand use of SAF to community colleges and career / technical education, and prohibit use for 4-year colleges / universities.
• Give effect to laws, including those that:

o Increase sales / use tax to 7%, as authorized by constitutional amendment.
o Increase gasoline / diesel fuel tax and adjust annually for inflation, increase vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation purposes.
o Expand competitive bidding and warranties for road projects.
o Increase earned income tax credit

Should this proposal be adopted?

Yes or No

Confusing? Voters shot this down 80% to 19%.

 

A referendum can be even more confusing. Sturgis, Michigan voters voted to keep this law 69% to 31%.

Should the City of Sturgis repeal Part II – Chapter 10 Animals
– Article II Dogs and Cats –
Section 10-33 of the City of Sturgis Code of Ordinances?
Sec. 10-33. – Operating a dog kennel in city prohibited.
No person, group of persons, association or corporation shall keep, operate, or maintain a dog kennel within the limits of the city. A dog kennel, as used in this section means any establishment wherein or whereon more than two dogs are owned, kept, or harbored. This section shall not apply to the owning, keeping, or harboring of any dog pups until they attain the age of four months.
Yes or No

As you can see, ballot titles are not always easy to understand.

 

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, Our million dollar vote, politicians

Colorado Legislators Show Contempt For Citizens

Colorado legislators finally ended their session and went home, but not before weakening voters petition rights.

HB15-1057 creates petty new hurdles for initiatives.

In Colorado the politicians love making the initiative harder. Initiatives must have two sponsors. There are multiple review and comment hearings where the public can complain about the petition and changes can be demanded. Each time a change occurs a new comment hearing must be held. This process takes months. A representative of the sponsors had been required to attend each of these review hearings. If they didn’t attend it started the entire process over. This can be tedious considering a sponsor from Cortez would need to drive over 7 hours to be in Denver for the hearing. But they could have a representative in Denver attend in their place. Not anymore!

How petty can legislators be? They now require both sponsors to attend every hearing, and if one of the sponsors is unable to attend for any reason, the initiative is withdrawn and the process must be restarted.

From the bill:

BOTH DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PROPONENTS MUST APPEAR AT ALL REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETINGS. IF EITHER DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVE FAILS TO ATTEND A MEETING, THE MEASURE IS CONSIDERED WITHDRAWN BY THE PROPONENTS.
IF ONE OF THE TWO DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES FAILS TO ATTEND THE REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETING ,THE PETITION IS DEEMED TO BE AUTOMATICALLY  RESUBMITTED TO THE DIRECTORS OF THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL AND THE OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE LEGAL SERVICES FOR REVIEW AND COMMENT, UNLESS THE DESIGNATED  REPRESENTATIVE PRESENT OBJECTS TO THE AUTOMATIC RESUBMISSION.
NO LATER THAN FIVE BUSINESS DAYS AFTER THE RESUBMISSION , THE DIRECTORS SHALL CONDUCT A REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETING IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE REQUIREMENTS OF THIS SECTION.
IF BOTH DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES FAIL TO ATTEND THE REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETING OR IF THE DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVE PRESENT OBJECTS TO THE AUTOMATIC RESUBMISSION, THE PROPONENTS MAY THEREAFTER RESUBMIT THE INITIATIVE PETITION IN ACCORDANCE WITH SUBSECTION (1) OF THIS SECTION

 

 

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, referendum

Three Reasons Prop 1 Failed In Michigan

Yesterday May 5, 2015 Michigan voters rejected a statewide ballot proposal to increase taxes for road and infrastructure repair by a 4-1 margin. That’s 80% against, 19% for. It’s the biggest loss for a statewide constitutional amendment ballot proposal since the Michigan constitution was written in 1963. How does a ballot question fail 4-1 at the ballot box?


 

The Facts:
Michigan’s roads are in horrible shape. Everyone acknowledges this.

Voters are demanding action on roads. This has been a legislative issue for well over a year.


Why Prop 1 Failed, Reason One: Prop 1 was a textbook example of everything voters hate about politics, politicians, and the political process.

The proposal was presented as a tax increase to repair Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges. In reality it was  $2 billion tax hike containing a slew of special interest giveaways. When sausage, Er, I mean legislation is made, lots of back door and under the table deals occur. Horse trading, vote trading, and earmarks; huge bills are written where individual legislators get their pet projects funded and their friends get state contracts and family members get state jobs. The wheeling and dealing results in omnibus bills and hundreds or thousands of pages in a single piece of legislation that politicians haven’t read and nobody understands completely. A fancy feel good title is slapped on and the politicians shake hands all around. Sometimes it’s republicans, sometimes democrats, and when it’s really bad, it’s bipartisan. Voters know this, and voters hate this. Voters want a simple choice, they are not legislators. Legislators will horse trade to pass legislation because they can collect later. Voters don’t wheel and deal on legislation, they vote yes or no, they have nothing to gain later.

Why Prop 1 Failed, Reason Two: The more issues you add to a ballot question, the fewer people will support the ballot question. Voters look for reasons to oppose a ballot question.

There are a few people around the country who work with ballot questions on a regular basis.  It’s a specialized field in which I happen to have some experience. People working in this field full time will tell you, there is an inverse relationship between number of popular subjects you can include in a ballot question and the amount of support you’ll see at the ballot box. Take an issue like term limits, 75% support, all day long, across party lines. Take an issue like redistricting reform, very popular, 60%+ support across the board. If you put those issues together, support for both will go down, not up. Why? Voters like to vote against things. They default to voting against measures when they are uncertain, even if it looks good. If Prop 1 had been about gas taxes for the roads, or sales tax increase for the roads, or sales tax increase for the schools, or sales tax increase for earned income tax credit, or any single issue it would have been much closer. Legislators like this method, include a little something for everyone. Voters saw it differently, voters went to the polls with a half dozen specific reasons to vote against this measure.

Why Prop 1 Failed, Reason Three: The campaign for Prop 1 was insulting to taxpayers.

Proponents of Prop 1 spent big money, over $9 million dollars, while opponents spent about $300,000. Anyone who doesn’t live in a cave has heard the arguments about big money buying elections i.e. Citizens United and the Koch brothers, yet it’s glaringly obvious big money hurt rather than helped this ballot question. Parading a crushed school bus around the state and running commercials about kids dying because of the roads didn’t help. Voters were insulted. Give us money or children will die in the streets, was clearly over the top.


Prop 1 should have never made it out of the legislature. It was a perfect storm created by lame ducks who have no business in office after an election, lobbyists who took an opportunity to grab for everything knowing voters would drive to the polls on potholes and cold patch, and a republican governor who is trying to show how centrist he can be by giving money to schools rather and raising the earned income tax credit.

The real solution is for Governor Snyder to lead by being a tough nerd. Sharpen the pencil and find room in the budget for the needed road repairs. Budgets are tight nationwide. Families are required to live within their means, they’ll support leaders who find ways to provide services without higher taxes.

prop1

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Canada’s New E-Petition

E-Petitioning is coming. In the near future we can expect politicians to enact some creative laws to allow for citizens to sign petitions electronically. A few trial versions have been talked about, but no game changing legislation has yet been proposed. Plenty of non-binding online petition websites are currently offering people the opportunity to sign and show their support for an issue. However these are not legally binding.
In Canada a new e-petition initiative process has been proposed. Formal have been adopted a recent article in the International Business Times said this:

Under the e-petition system, new rules allow citizens to propose an initiative on anything– federal funding, new demands, even views on controversial issues according to its proponent Stewart.

In e-petition, the stipulation is that it must be sponsored by an MP and must be backed by 500 signatures, if it is an online submission, in 120 days before it can be read in Parliament. Also, the minister in charge of the matter should respond to a successful initiative within 45 days.

The law makers are hoping that e-petitions would help reverse many troubling political trends. It may also help in arresting the sagging political participation. The voter turnout dipped to 61 percent since 2000 from the 73 percent in the 1980s. Many burning issues of people get ignored in the heat of party politics by MPs under the pressure of excessive partisanship. They have little freedom to vote on their own convictions or honour the wishes of their constituents. The e-petition may anull that predicament.

Another non-binding petition process in the EU is often used but the politicians rarely obey the will of petitioners.

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Filed under Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, Uncategorized

Dispersed Power or Central Authority

Term limits is one of the most divisive political issues in existence. People love term limits or they hate term limits.

On one side we have supporters of term limits. They want citizen legislators, accountable officials, responsive government, and power dispersed into the hands of many to avoid authoritarian government. This is the citizenry, the general populace, republicans, democrats, greens, libertarians, about 75%-80% of everyday people support term limits.

On the other side of this divisive issue we have those who oppose term limits. They want aggressive legislators who know the system, legislators who answer to them, government that gives them advantages, and more time for their people in office. This is the elected few, the lobbyists, the two party establishment, a minority of about 15% who directly benefit from controlling legislation and tax dollars.

To be sure, there are some crossovers, citizens who oppose term limits and officials who support term limits. But between these two sides division is clear. People who want power dispersed, and people who want more time (always more time) in control.

The establishment opposes term limits by talking about voter choice and elections, they downplay the incumbent advantage and political machines. They claim every election people choose to keep electing the same candidates because they really love those candidates. In Kennesaw, Georgia we can see a typical example.

From the Marietta Daily Journal:

Kennesaw Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh said Thursday she won’t run for re-election, but she has three policy changes she wants to see before leaving at the end of the year.“My philosophy has always been that we’re never meant to be career politicians. That’s kind of what the country was founded on was part-time legislators. You’re supposed to come in, accomplish your job and groom someone else or encourage someone else and then move on,” Eaton-Welsh said.

Eaton-Welsh brought her proposal to Mayor Mark Mathews and the other council members Wednesday evening at a work session and received pushback from Mathews.

“You don’t think the voters already control that by leaving us in or taking us out of office?” Mathews asked Eaton-Welsh.

Eaton-Welsh said because incumbents are heavily favored in elections, “I really don’t think that they do.”

Mathews responded: “Wow.”

Mayor Mathews may be a great guy, but if he’s being honest and doesn’t think incumbents are heavily favored he’s out of touch with reality.

Term limits is very divisive, and it’s also very lopsided, voters support term limits by huge margins. If only politicians were in it for the people rather than the power.

 

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Filed under Ballot Question, charter amendment, pension, politicians, Term limits

Gresham, Oregon Do Politicians Deserve A Pay Raise?

Public servants, citizen legislators, or high paid city management, what do voters want? That is the question being asked for the fifth time since 1988 in Gresham Oregon.

From Oregonlive.com:

Gresham, with an estimated population of 109,397 in 2013, is among dozens of cities that don’t pay elected leaders, according to the League of Oregon Cities. Instead, they get  $160 a month — $1,920 a year — to cover expenses such as cell phones, gas and other local travel expenses, according to city officials.

Instead of proposing specific salaries, the ballot measure would authorize the city’s Finance Committee to choose a dollar amount that’s capped. The committee, comprised of seven residents, works with City Council to adopt a budget every year.

Ballot Question:

26-166 Citizen Control and Oversight of Compensation for the Gresham Mayor

Question: Shall the volunteer Gresham Finance Citizen Advisory Committee oversee and approve compensation for the Mayor of the City of Gresham?
Summary: Gresham’s Charter prohibits City Council from setting its own compensation; does not establish a method for citizen oversight and control of compensation. The 2011 Charter Review Committee recommended a special task force further research the issue of Council compensation.

The task force convened in 2015 and recommended a volunteer citizen advisory committee (the Finance Committee) provide oversight and control over, and establish and approve the compensation of the Mayor of the City of Gresham.

Any compensation approved by the volunteer Gresham Finance Committee would be used in the annual budget process. The budget process includes notice of public hearings before the Budget Committee and City Council.
If amended, the Gresham Revised Code would read:
GRC 2.40.025 Compensation Board (Mayor) The Gresham Finance Committee shall provide oversight and control over the Mayor’s compensation and shall annually prepare and approve a compensation schedule for the Mayor of the City of Gresham. The salary shall not exceed 45% of the compensation paid to the Chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.
(New text is underlined)

Yes
No

Sample Ballot:

OR_MultnohmahCounty_SampleBallot_5_19_15

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Whatcom, Washington Charter Amendments To Restrict Non-Profits

Whatcom County, WA has some interesting charter amendments being talked about by their charter review commission.

The Bellingham Herald has been covering the charter review process. From a recent article:

A conservative member of the Whatcom County Charter Review Commission seeks to restrict the county government’s funding of nonprofits. This would be the second such proposal put forward by the commission.

A county charter amendment by commissioner Wes Kentch that is scheduled to be introduced at tonight’s commission meeting in Ferndale would require nonprofit nongovernmental organizations seeking money from the county to complete an application. The county could not commit to funding a nonprofit longer than two years, and the organization must meet certain requirements to qualify for funding.

Text of the amendment:

AMENDMENT:
Section: 6.91 – Non Profit NGO Request for Proposal Transparency
6.92 – Non Profit NGO Financial Statements Transparency
6.93 – Non Profit NGO Donor Disclosure Transparency
6.94 – Non Profit NGO Ineligibility When Legislating Through the Courts
Section 6.91 Non Profit NGO Request for Proposal Transparency
Any project involving any disbursement or receipt of monies, by Whatcom County, to or from any nonprofit NGO shall be initiated with a Request for Proposals (RFP) drafted by Whatcom County.
All agreements involving transmittal of funds between Whatcom County and any nonprofit NGO shall have a sunset clause based on the biennial budget. No sunset clause shall be extended without a new RFP process.
Any Local Integrating Organization funding passing through Whatcom County accounts to any
nonprofit NGO, excluded by law or custom from a Whatcom County RFP process, shall require full financial
disclosure by the nonprofit NGO to Whatcom County, as outlined In Section 6.92.
Section 6.92 Nonprofit NGO Financial Statements Transparency
Any nonp rofit NGO transmitting funds to or from Whatcom County shall provide full financial statements to Whatcom County, externally audited by a certified accountant, including statements of assets and balances, income and expenses, fund reserve allocations, and donors, from the two fiscal years prior to the date of RFP submittal, and for any interim year(s) while the submittal is processed, and for a period of two years following any transmittal of funds.
The penalty for falsified financial statements shall be return of 100% of funds qualified by the falsified information, and ineligibility to partner financially with Whatcom County for ten years from the date that such financial information is ruled falsified.
Section 6.93 Non Profit NGO Donor Disclosure Transparency
Any nonprofit NGO who may legally receive donations from non-disclosed donors shall be ineligible to transmit funds between themselves and Whatcom County.
Any nonprofit NGO who may legally transmit funds between themselves and another nonprofit NGO whose donors are legally non-disclosed shall be ineligible to transmit funds between themselves and Whatcom County.
Section 6.94 Non Profit NGO Ineligibility When Legislating Through the Courts
Any nonp rofit NGO initiating or supporting, with funding, legal briefs or official sanctions, litigation or citizen voter initiatives, impacting the Whatcom County Code or Charter in any way, or any other legislative codes binding on Whatcom County land and water planning processes, shall be ineligible for funding or project relationships with Whatcom County for a period of ten years after the date of final court settlement of such litigation.
Contractual agreements and projects in effect between Whatcom County and such a nonprofit NGO when such litigation or citizen voters initiatives are initiated or supported may be immediately terminated.

A previously proposed amendment would have banned outright county funding of nonprofits.

That amendment:

Title:   Shall the County Charter prohibit grants and expenditures to non-profit organizations unless the County is reimbursed by another organization or jurisdiction?
Section:   (new)
Section 6.74 Charitable AppropriationsAmendment:
Section 6.74 Charitable Appropriations The Whatcom County Executive and the Whatcom County councilmembers shall not distribute county funds via grants or expenditures, whether budgeted or non-budgeted, to charitable, educational, civic, homeowners, neighborhood, arts, trade, business, religious or scientific non-profit organizations or any other similar types of community organizations/groups not mentioned herein, unless the grant or expenditure is directly reimbursed by community, private, state, or federal grant agencies for the identical purposes for which the agency/government grant is provided.

There is opposition to this form of transparency. From Philanthropy Northwest:

The new proposal asks “shall the charter be amended to increase transparency in funding between Whatcom County and nonprofit non-government organizations (NGOs)?” It’s a seemingly benign question. After all, who isn’t for more transparency in the public sector? However, this proposal is clearly not about transparency. It is also not about best practice for all entities with which a county may conduct business. It’s about erecting barriers to the provision of “those types of services” by “that type of organization.” It also contradicts federal regulation.

First, in defining “financial statement transparency,” the proposal requires any nonprofit desiring to do business with the county to undergo an external audit. While an external audit is good business practice, it is widely understood to be both unnecessary and prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of nonprofit organizations.

 

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