In front of tomorrow’s special City Council meeting that is intended to call a special election, the #MakeMinot committee has published an open letter to Minot’s City Council Alderman.
Full disclosure: on the issue of City Council reform, I and the Minot Voice are not neutral bystanders. I am a member of the #MakeMinot committee and the Minot Voice has taken a strong editorial position in support of reform.
This letter was originally published on the #MakeMinot website.
Members of Minot’s City Council:
For the next day, your email inbox is going to get a little crowded. In front of tomorrow’s meeting, we’ll be mobilizing our supporters to advocate for adding our petition to a March special election that is intended to consider necessary Home Rule Charter amendments. But we wanted to reach out to each of you individually prior to that so our position is clear.
First, we understand the personal nature this conversation about City Council reform has for you. While there have been moments the discussion has swayed, our intent has been to keep it focused on the system. This is not about personal and past decisions, our initiative is about ensuring Minot has a system of government that allows our city to move forward with the full trust and mandate of the people.
Second, on December 2nd, the #MakeMinot petition was certified as legal. That action sets in motion a legal process outlined in Minot’s code of ordinances and Home Rule Charter. A certified petition must be acted on within 60 days of certification or a special election must be called within 120 days. Furthermore, the specific language of our petition has intent and effect that requires it be acted on within that period. In short, there is no legal process or ordinance that allows the city to simply move our petition to a June election as advocated by the city’s preferred timeline.
Furthermore, the motivations behind the timeline being advocated by the City and Mayor Barney are highly suspect. Any capitulation to a timeline or process that falls outside that which is mandated by law will only serve to heighten distrust for the City and our elected officials. Mayor Barney is a vocal opponent of our proposal, and he has gone so far as to assist in crafting an alternate proposal that serves only to siphon support and votes away from our citizen-initiated proposal. It’s hard for us to overstate the degree to which we feel his actions are inappropriate.
And then there are the legal considerations, and therein lies the rub. If a ballot that includes the alternate proposal was considered, there would be no legal precedent or law that would allow us to determine the outcome the election. Any result would lead to a legal challenge. To quote City Attorney Hendershot directly in her memo of November 9 on the outcome of a three issue ballot:
“It is unclear which option would prevail if multiple options receive a majority of ‘yes’ votes.”
How will it look to the citizens of Minot if the legal standing of a citizen-initiated measure is summarily shuffled down the timeline to allow an oppositional mayor time to implement laws and ordinances that allow him to install a competing measure? How will it look if the City Council is complicit in that action?
It stinks that we are in this mess. The last thing we wanted was a legal entanglement. We worked diligently this summer seeking guidance that would prevent this issue. We even asked our city attorney to consider our language before we began the petitioning process. She declined to offer an opinion citing a ‘conflict of interest’. As a matter of formal recommendation, it might be wise to endorse a policy whereby the City of Minot willingly offers opinions on citizen-initiated petitions prior to the petitioning. It would be nice if we can learn from the difficulties encountered through this process.
But we believe there is a legal path forward for you. In 2011, a Home Rule Charter amendment and amendment-contingent ordinance were considered on the same ballot. A citizen-initiated petition with the legal standing that comes with more than 2800 signatures deserves the same consideration.
And to touch on one last point, there is some question on the need for ‘implementing ordinances’ or ordinances that layout the process by which we should enact these changes. But implementing ordinances are only a part of the conversation if the considered issue is for a change in form of government. The petition we have submitted is not for a change in form of government, and the City of Minot agrees with us. If the City of Minot’s position were that our petition was for a change in form of government, then they could not have certified it. The signature requirement for a change in form of government — whether to a modern council or commission form — is considerably higher than the 2800 signatures we submitted.
All of that said, whatever your decision tomorrow, please be certain of the fact that the last thing we as #MakeMinot want for the citizens and City of Minot is a legal quagmire or lawsuit. Our interest is only what’s best for Minot. We believe that is an election that gives the citizens a clear, simple choice and the legal authority to implement it. We believe that path is in front of you and any election — whatever the outcome — will validate and give further legal standing to your decision.
If you have any doubts on that issue, please consider Article I, Section 2 of the North Dakota Constitution:
All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people, and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require.
With that, we urge you to add the #MakeMinot initiative to the March 1 ballot along with the recommended Home Rule Charter amendments.
#MakeMinot Committee & Supporters