Friday, June 21, 2013

County, three city council members sign on to initiative challenge

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2013 at 5:01 PM

Three Spokane City Council members, Spokane County and a handful of groups that represent real estate interests in the area have filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of two citizen initiatives on their way to the November ballot. 

One initiative, brought by Envision Spokane, is the group's third try at a Community Bill of Rights, expanding neighborhood rights and environmental protections. Another, from Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution, would outlaw private lobbying — corporations’ employees talking to city officials about legislation — and corporate contributions to local campaigns.

Opponents of placing the initiatives on the ballot have argued the changes — Envision's is a charter amendment and SMAC's is an ordinance — exceed the city's legal powers and will therefore invite an onslaught of lawsuits against the city if they pass. The complaint filed today (see the full document at the end of this post) says the measures "seek to abuse the local initiative power" and demands a court review of the initiatives as "part of a well-established process for examining the lawfulness of local initiatives before communities waste resources to vote on initiatives that cannot become law." It names the two groups bringing the initiatives, the city and the county auditor, who is responsible for putting qualified initiatives on the ballot.

County Commissioner Todd Mielke calls a preemptive challenge the commission's effort "to minimize exposure of taxpayer dollars [to] potential litigation."

Councilman Steve Salvatori, who personally joined the suit and signed on his business, Spokane Entrepreneurial Center, says the move is "not about keeping this off the ballot if it's legit," but a way to make sure the initiatives are legal before citizens vote on them. A similar pre-election challenge in Bellingham shot down a Community Bill of Rights before it could appear on a ballot there.

"This is a coalition doing what they have to do to get … this in front of a judge," he says.

All of the council members have previously expressed opposition to both initiatives, but have disagreed on whether they should be challenged before the election or put to a vote of the people regardless of their legality. The council voted 4-3 last month against recommending the mayor file a suit like this, with the three "yes" votes (Salvatori and council members Mike Allen and Nancy McLaughlin) now joining this suit.

While the City of Spokane is a defendant in this case because the initiatives would change city law, Mayor David Condon issued a statement today saying he has "serious questions about whether the proposed initiatives will stand up to constitutional scrutiny."

SMAC member Tom Bogley said this afternoon that his group hadn't heard about the challenge until he received a call from The Inlander and because of that he had no comment.

Envision Spokane representative Kai Huschke did not immediately return a call for comment, but we'll update this post if we hear back from him.

The summons and complaint filed today:

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About The Author

Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...