Tag Archives: charter amendment

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

Gaining The Initiative

Citizens in Sammamish, WA are expected to gain the ability to initiate legislation this fall.

Earlier this year activists circulated petitions to call for an advisory vote to gauge local support of the initiative process. Voters approved the advisory measure 55% to 45%.

The Sammamish City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to move forward with a resolution that states its intent to adopt citizen-enacted initiative and referendum powers, with Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay and Councilmember Tom Odell voting against.

The limited powers allow residents to create or repeal laws within the city by way of petition. The council decided to put the matter up to the public in the April special election. That nonbinding advisory vote passed with 55 percent approval with a 24 percent voter turnout.

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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:

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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Filed under charter amendment, crony capitalism, politicians, Uncategorized

Changing The East Lansing Charter

There is a ballot battle being waged in East Lansing, Michigan. An old charter provision requires 60% voter approval before the city can sell property valued at greater than $4/resident. Todd Heywood has written a concise rundown of the issue here.

From Todd’s article:

In 1944, the City of East Lansing formally adopted its charter, bringing it into compliance with a state law that required a supermajority to sell property (which it was required to follow anyway). In 1948, the state repealed this requirement. The city did not move to amend the charter.

He’s referencing this provision of the East Lansing Charter:

4.8. – Restriction on Powers of the Council.

a.The Council shall not have the power to contract with or give any official position to any person who is in default to the City, except any contract to cure the default.

b.The Council shall not have the power to sell any real property of a value in excess of four dollars ($4.00) per capita according to the last preceding U.S. Census, or any parkland, or a cemetery, or any property bordering on water, or vacate any street or public place leading to a waterfront, or engage in any business enterprise requiring an investment of money in excess of ten cents (10¢) per capita, unless approved by three fifths (3/5) of the electors voting at any general or special election.

c.Except as otherwise provided in this Charter, no ordinance or resolution shall be adopted or passed except by the affirmative vote of at least three (3) members of the Council.

d.There shall be no standing committees of the Council.

On May 5, 2015 voters will get to decide this question:

“Shall Section 4.8 of the East Lansing Charter be amended to change the requirement for voter approval to sell certain real property from a three fifths (3/5) majority vote of the electors to a simple majority vote of the electors and add an annual inflation adjustment, tied to the consumer price index, to the current four dollar ($4.00) per capita dollar limitation to sell real property?”

I am curious how many additional Michigan home rule cities include this 3/5ths provision in their charters.


Update: May 6, 2015

Local Proposal 2

The passing of Prop 2 will allow the City Council to sell property with a simple majority vote from citizens.

Mayor Nathan Triplett has strongly endorsed the passing of the local Prop 2 so City Council can proceed with selling blighted property, but as of 10 p.m. Tuesday, results are too close to call with 53 percent of voters in favor of the East Lansing charter amendment proposal. Nine more precincts have yet to report results.

He previously told The State News Editorial Board that East Lansing is one of only three cities in the state that requires a supermajority to sell land. All other cities require a 50 percent-plus-one majority.

In November, Fifty-seven percent of voters approved the city’s proposed sale of the blighted Park District area to DTN Management Co.

However, because of the current 60 percent voter approval requirement, the sale could not go through.

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

Land Use At The Ballot In Boulder, Colorado

Land use and zoning are not always issues that can be addressed through the initiative process. Leaving these decisions in the hands of city officials can create issues where some developments get preferential treatment and variances while others are held strictly to the letter of the law. In Colorado activists are using the initiative process to take those decisions away from municipal officials.

Boulder, Colorado citizens have proposed two charter amendments that would require public approval of projects that do not conform with existing land use regulations.

Proposed Boulder charter amendments

“Development Shall Pay Its Own Way” would require the city to develop measurements for levels of service in a variety of areas, including police, fire, libraries, parks, human services and transportation, and to not approve new development that does not pay for or otherwise provide for that level of service to be maintained. New development would be defined as any project that increases the floor area of a building or site, or any change in use of an existing building.

“Neighborhoods’ Right to Vote on Land-Use Regulation Changes” would require a vote on land-use changes if 10 percent of the registered voters in a neighborhood asked for one. Land-use changes that would subject to a vote would include exemptions to height, density and the occupancy limit, reductions in parking and setbacks, and zoning changes. Land-use changes that affect multiple neighborhoods would require separate elections in each neighborhood.

Another land use ballot question will be voted on in Aspen Colorado on May 5, 2015. It’s intent is similar, a voter approval requirement for zoning variances.

Sample Ballot:


Text of the Amendment:

Shall Article XIII of the Home Rule Charter of the City of Aspen be amended by the addition of the following?
Section 13.14 – Voter authorization of certain land use approvals.
(a)        Any land use approval granted by the City of Aspen, or an amendment to a previous land use approval, including those granted as a result of litigation, on land within the zone districts listed in paragraph (b), that exceeds the zoning limitations for allowable floor area or maximum height (including height restricted by view planes), or which reduces the requirements for the amount of off-street parking spaces or affordable housing, shall not be effective unless subsequently approved by a majority of all City electors voting thereon.
(b)        Except as set forth herein below, the provisions of paragraph (a) shall apply to all properties east of Castle Creek within the following zone districts on January 1, 2015: Commercial Core (CC) zone district, Commercial (C-1) zone district, Service/Commercial/Industrial (S/C/I) zone district, Neighborhood  Commercial (NC) zone district, Mixed Use (MU) zone district, Lodge (L) zone district, Commercial Lodge (CL) zone district, Lodge Overlay (LO) zone district, Lodge Preservation Overlay (LP) zone district.
(c)        Although within the zone districts set forth in paragraph (b), the following shall be exempt from the provisions of paragraph (a): single-family and duplex homes, replacement of non-conforming structures, and variations necessary to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Federal Telecommunications  Act (FTA), to implement energy efficiency measures, to meet applicable building and fire codes, or an amendment to a previous land use approval that reduces height or floor area or increases the amount of parking or affordable housing.
(d)        The approval of the electorate required by this Section shall take place at the next available previously scheduled state or county election, the next general municipal election or a special election set by the Council, whichever is earlier.
(e)        The City of Aspen shall amend the Land Use Regulations to be consistent with this Home Rule Charter Amendment.


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Warren Michigan Term Limits, When the Mayor Won’t Let Go

The mayor in Warren Michigan, is trying to do an end run around voter approved term limits.

From Deadline Detroit:

This story begins in December 2014, in the political slumber between the Christmas and New Year holidays, when Warren City Attorney David Griem issued a dubious legal opinion. He claimed claimed a city charter amendment approved by voters in the 1990s, which limits officials to 12 years in an office (three 4-year terms),  is not what the electorate thought it was.

Their logic: At large council seats are different offices than ward council seats and the term limit clock counts separately if you were elected at large or in a ward.

Let’s look at the relevant section of the Warren city charter.

First council and mayor:

Sec. 4.1 – City officers. (a)The elective officers shall be the mayor, the seven council members, the clerk, and treasurer.

Sec. 5.1 – The city council.(a) The council shall consist of seven members, one of whom shall be the mayor pro-tem. There shall be five council districts and one at-large district established in the city. One member shall be elected from each of the five (5) council districts and two members shall be elected at-large. Each candidate for a city council district shall be a resident of the council district he or she seeks to represent. A city council member’s office is vacated if the member moves his or her residence outside of the council district that the member represents.


Next term limits:

Sec. 4.3 – Certain persons ineligible for city office. (d) A person shall not be eligible to hold the office of mayor, city council, city clerk or city treasurer for more than the greater of three (3) complete terms or twelve (12) years in that particular office. This provision shall be applied to commence with the term of office that took effect after the election on November 7, 1995.

Area reporter Chad Selwiski has done a great story on this issue, he writes:

Griem, a formerly prominent criminal defense attorney, claims that the city council operates as a bicameral legislature, similar to the distinct House and Senate chambers in Congress.

Yet, the council never meets or votes in separate sessions based on district council members vs. at-large council members.

“The words (bicameral legislature) are just not there,” the suit claims. “(The charter) repeatedly refers to a single office of city council, and there is nothing – nothing — in the charter to indicate the contrary.”

Read more here.

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Michigan Term Limits, politicians, Term limits

Requiring A Streetcar Vote

San Antonio, Texas will be voting on a city charter amendment on 5/9/2014 to decide if any future streetcar or lightrail projects constructed with tax dollars must be approved by voters.

Sample Ballot: SanAntonio5_9_15citysample

Ballot Title:


From www.mysanantonio.com:

In the upcoming San Antonio city elections, voters should give themselves the right to vote on any future light rail project by voting “yes” on the city charter amendment.

When Mayor Ivy Taylor pulled the city’s funding for the streetcar last summer, County Judge Nelson Wolff said at the time, “VIA has done a horrible job of articulating why they’re doing streetcar. It’s been a tremendous failure on their part to explain it.” But without a vote before rail is built, there is little incentive for any public agency to provide adequate public information.

Indeed, VIA has gone to great lengths to avoid a public vote on rail. VIA obviously had the streetcar in mind when in 2011 its cadre of paid lobbyists asked the Texas Legislature to pass a bill allowing VIA to issue bonds without going to the voters, as the law would otherwise have required. The charter amendment will simply reverse this ill-advised legislation.

City Published Voter Guide:


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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, crony capitalism, Initiative, Our million dollar vote, Petition Drive, transparency, Uncategorized

Ethics Amendment, Tallahassee, Florida

An interesting ethics amendment passed in Tallahasse, Florida 11/04/2014


Text of the amendment:

Section 1. Charter Amendment.
The “Existing Municipality” provisions of Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the Charter of the City of Tallahassee, having been previously deleted as being obsolete, are hereby reestablished as an Ethics, Anti-corruption, Campaign Financing subpart with new sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 to read as follows:
Section  1.  Statement  of  Ethics  and  Anti-corruption Policy.  The  proper  operation  of  responsible  government  requires  that  public  officials  and  employees  be  independent, impartial, and responsible to the people; that government decisions and policy be made in the best interests of the community and the government; that public office not be used for personal gain; that officials and employees not be unduly or inappropriately influenced by those they regulate or by those who seek special benefits from the City; and that the public have confidence in the integrity and transparency of its government.

Section 2. Ethics Code and Ethics Board to be established.

a. Ethics Code. The City Commission shall, within six (6) months of the enactment of this charter provision, enact an ethics, or conflicts of interest, code with jurisdiction over the officers and employees of the City of Tallahassee, whether elected or appointed, paid or unpaid, and over the members, officers and employees of any boards, commissions, or committees thereof. The ethics code may, as allowed by law, supplement state ethics laws.

b. Ethics Board. There is hereby created an independent, appointed, ongoing citizens Ethics Board of seven members, whose membership shall consist of registered City of Tallahassee electors who have appropriate subject matter expertise none of whom may be an officer or employee of local government. Each of the following persons or entities shall make an appointment of one of five Board members to wit: the City Commission, the Chief Judge for the Second Judicial Circuit, the State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, the President of Florida State University and the President of  Florida A&M University. Two Board members shall be appointed by the Ethics Board. Initial appointments shall be  made  within 90 days  of the approval of this Charter provision and all subsequent appointments shall be  made  within 60 days of a vacancy occurring. The City Commission shall provide by ordinance for the length and staggering of the terms of Ethics Board members.

The Ethics Board shall: (i) assist the City Commission in the development of the ethics code; (ii) adopt bylaws and due process procedures for the administration of the Ethics Board; (iii) manage a citywide ethics hotline for receipt of allegations of local corruption, fraud, waste, mismanagement, campaign finance  and ethics violations; (iv) manage and coordinate the mandatory training of local officials, officers, employees, and board members in state and local ethics; (v) have the authority to refer ethics and corruption matters to appropriate enforcement agencies; (vi) recommend proposed ordinances, resolutions, or charter amendments to the City Commission in all areas of ethics and corruption, including but  not  limited  to:  conflicts  of  interests,  financial  disclosure,  voting  conflicts,  hotline  policies, ethics  education,  ethics  in  procurement,  campaign  ethics  and  financing,  and lobbying; such legislative proposals shall be filed with and considered by the City Commission; (vii) have the authority to investigate complaints and to levy those civil penalties as may be authorized by the City Commission for violations of the City’s ethics code; and  (viii) employ staff serving in the ethics office. A structure shall be established for the Ethics Board that ensures independence and impartiality, and provides for the maximum practicable input from citizens and community organizations.  The Ethics Board shall be funded by the City Commission within its discretionary budgetary authority at a level sufficient to discharge the Board’s responsibilities.

Section 3. Ethics Office Established.
The  ethics  code  established  pursuant  to  Section  2  shall  provide  for  the  establishment  of  a  citywide  Ethics  Office  under  the  exclusive  jurisdiction  of,  and  reporting  to  the independent Ethics Board, to discharge the duties and responsibilities of the Ethics Board as provided herein. The ethics office shall include an Ethics Officer/Director who may be a full time or part time city employee or independent contractor. The Ethics Office shall be funded by the City Commission within its discretionary budgetary authority at a level sufficient to discharge the Office’s responsibilities.

Section 4. Contribution Limitations; Citizen Campaign Financing, Refund of contributions to candidates.
a. No candidate for the Tallahassee City Commission shall accept any election campaign contribution from any contributor, including a political committee as defined by state law, in cash or in kind, in an amount in excess of $250 per election.
b. A registered elector of the City of Tallahassee may claim a refund equal to the amount of the elector’s monetary contributions made in the calendar year to candidates for Mayor and City Commission of the City of Tallahassee. The maximum refund for an individual is $25. A refund is allowed only if the elector files a form, signed under penalty of perjury, with the Ethics Board  and attaches to the form a copy of an official refund receipt form(s) issued by the candidate’s principal campaign committee after each contribution was received.  A claim form must be filed within time limits and procedures set by the Ethics Board.  No individual may file more than one claim per election cycle.  No receipt can be issued by a Candidate who has not met all legal requirements of the Tallahassee City Code of General Ordinances. The Ethics Board shall file a summary report to the Mayor and City Commission showing the total number and aggregate amount of political contribution refunds made on behalf of each candidate.
c. The City Commission shall establish procedures consistent with this section for the implementation of the refund policy. The amount the Ethics Board states is necessary to pay refunds as provided for in this section shall be appropriated in amounts from the general fund or any other fund as determined by the City Commission within their sole budgetary discretion and powers.
d. The filing  of  a  contribution  refund  form  containing  materially  false  information  or  the  willful  issuance  of  an  official  refund  receipt  form  or  a  facsimile  of  one  by  a candidate  or  agent  of  a  candidate  to  a  person  who  did  not  make  a  contribution  to  such  candidate  is  an ethics  offense  with  penalties  to  be  established  by the  City Commission.  The Ethics Board may hear complaints or initiate proceedings, and levy civil penalties, relating to alleged violations of this section.
Section 2.  Severability.  If any section, subsection or provision of this charter amendment is determined by a court to be invalid, the remainder of this charter amendment shall not be affected by such invalidity.
Pd. Pol. Adv. Paid for by Citizens for Ethics Reform, 1400 Village Square Blvd. #3-153, Tallahassee, FL 32312

From the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper:

Voters overwhelmingly approved sweeping new ethics and campaign-finance measures for the city of Tallahassee — an outcome that was no surprise to many political observers.

Yes votes for the city charter amendment were leading late Tuesday night. With 76 of 76 precincts reporting, unofficial results were:

Yes: 38,968 votes, 67 percent yes

No: 19,431 votes, 33 percent no

Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida and a driving force behind the charter amendment, applauded its passage.

Citizens for Ethics Reform A Florida group supporting the measure.

There is a national group pushing more of these initiatives. Represent.us

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An Uphill Battle


It’s all too often I read about initiatives being obstructed by officials who refuse to act as they are legally required. They will ignore petitions, delay votes, write misleading ballot questions, give bad petition instructions, supply incorrect dates, and otherwise seek to confound and thwart petitioners. Here are two recent examples.

Recently, citizens in Rumford, Maine gathered petitions to amend the city charter. The amendment would add a spending cap requiring the value of the tax base to grow before spending can be increased. They went to the city attorney and received help with formatting and language. Now the city attorney has advised the Board of Selectmen (the Maine version of a city council) to reject the petition. The reason? The attorney is calling the amendment a charter revision and thus needs to be rejected because it wasn’t proposed by a charter commission.

Voters in Montrose, Michigan rejected a proposal to legalize transport of small quantities of marijuana. The city council drug their feet and delayed long enough to miss the November election deadline. February elections in Michigan see low voter turnout. It seems in this case the city council wanted to avoid a high turnout election where the initiative was likely to pass.


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