City not breaking law on initiative, attorney says

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Carson City's attorney said Monday the city isn't breaking a law by appealing a district court order to put the fairgrounds initiative question on the November ballot.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg said a state law passed in 2001, which states local governments "shall not incur an expense or make an expenditure to support or oppose a ballot question or candidate" doesn't apply to the city's efforts to seek legal clarification of the initiative process on the issue.

"What we can't do is spend money advertising or promoting one way or the other," Forsberg said. "As a legal matter, the law, we think, provides a binding initiative that wouldn't be lawful. While we're willing to hear from the voters on this issue, we think we need to oppose the way we're going about it."

Julian Smith, attorney for the Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park, disagreed. City employee time working on the issue would constitute a violation of the law, he said.

"This is small potatoes that they're spending city money to defeat a ballot question when in fact the constitution and state law requires a petition certified by the county clerk and not adopted by the city supervisors to be on the ballot," Smith said.

Other than the salaries of Forsberg and other officials, the city pays no court costs in the case.

Forsberg and Smith have agreed, however, to an expedited process to have the state Supreme Court review an appeal of Judge Michael Griffin's decision to put the fairgrounds question, which would have the city preserve and improve Fuji Park and the fairgrounds "into perpetuity," on the ballot. Forsberg filed the appeal Friday.

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a city petition to force Clerk Alan Glover not to put the issue on the ballot, noting in their decision the city had ample time to appeal Griffin's decision instead of asking the court to make an emergency decision based on time constraints of publishing ballots. Forsberg said the normal timeline for filings in a Supreme Court case could take up to four months, and he and Smith agreed to a 15-day file and counter-file deadline to help hurry the process along.

City officials want to commercially develop the fairgrounds to compete for sales tax dollars threatened by developments across the Douglas County line.

City officials are fighting the petition to protect the fairgrounds, signed by 3,400 voters, because they believe the ordinance it requests infringes on their state-granted right to sell property. City supervisors have also said they don't want to waste voters' time lobbying for or against an issue they believe is illegal.

A ballot question committee is meeting today to draft language for the city's proposed advisory question on the issue. Glover said he hopes to have the language completed for the city's question in the next two weeks. The ballot committee members will then "switch sides," Glover said, and compose language for the Concerned Citizen's proposed ordinance.

Supervisors decided to have the committee write language for both their question and the ordinance they oppose and on July 15 they will choose one to go on the ballot if the Supreme Court hasn't decided the appeal.


What: Carson City Fairgrounds ballot question committees meetings

When: 5:30 p.m. today

Where: City Hall's Capitol Conference Room and Executive Conference Room, 201 N. Carson St.

Call 887-2086 for information.


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