Another voter initiative bites the dust
September 10, 2002
“The old adage of ‘being railroaded’ may be aptly applied to the situation confronting the residents of Washoe County today.”
Young was in the minority of a 4-1 ruling by the court last week that will prevent Reno residents from voting on a train trench that literally and figuratively divides that community.
It was another in a series of rulings slapping down residents’ attempts to bring major, controversial issues to a public vote. A day earlier, however, the court had ordered a growth-cap initiative onto the Douglas County ballot in November.
The court also has denied Carson City residents’ petitions to put a Fuji Park/fairgrounds issue to a vote, but city supervisors have placed an “advisory” question on the ballot, so there will be a vote after all. It all seems very confusing, but there is a clear path through the thicket.
The decisions hinge on the difference between “administrative” and “legislative” powers of local governments. Unfortunately, the court has gone far afield in defining “administrative” powers, leaving almost nothing left for residents to challenge.
The problem with the legal logic, as we have noted before, is the inability to assess the effect on the public of any legislative action until it manifests itself in a specific, administrative project.
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As Young noted, “The trench project constitutes more than a mere local improvement, public work or transportation project. Rather, the trench project is a part of an economic policy to revitalize the downtown area that involves both a permanent change to the character of (Reno) and the largest single financial commitment in its history. This suggests that the project is not merely administrative but policy driven and legislative in nature.”
Just as troubling as the legal logic, in our minds, is the propensity for government officials to use the taxpayers’ own money to fight citizen initiatives before they can even got to the electorate. That is simply not a fair fight.
Both these issues may be resolved in a simple amendment to the state law on initiative petitions: They may not be challenged in court by publicly funded governments or agencies until after the popular vote.
If someone wants to challenge beforehand, let him raise the money for lawyers. Otherwise, let the initiative go to the people for a vote — and, if need be, argue the consequences afterward.
Frankly, we’re tired of seeing the taxpaying public being run over by their own train.
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