08/01/2007: "Stormy Waters"
Imagine sitting home on a pleasant evening watching the sunset. Suddenly you see a police car coming up your long driveway. The officer strides up to your door and knocks. You open the door expecting bad news and it is. Very bad.
It’s a Legal Summons. San Juan County is suing you. Why? What offense did you commit?
You filed a popular referendum challenging the unfair tax to pay for storm water. Almost 2000 friends and neighbors signed it because they thought it was unfair also. You dared to question authority. You thought that filing a referendum was a right granted under the new Charter. You thought that this power was in the hands of the people now.
Wrong. That is why you are being sued. Now you are forced to pay to defend yourself in court!
I am not making this up. It is really happening to the first person to ever file a referendum in San Juan County. And it gets even weirder.
The Prosecutor drafted the language for the “ballot title” that appeared in the petitions and approved the form of the referendum. Councilman Ranker asked Mr. Gaylord at the July 10th Council meeting if there were a way to evaluate referenda for their legality before citizens spent the time and effort to collect signatures. Mr. Gaylord’s response was, basically, that it was not his job to evaluate referenda and his department did not have the time.
Contrary to this statement, the Prosecutor’s office believed that this referendum raised significant questions. To that end, the County spent money requesting an opinion of the law firm of Foster, Pepper and prepared a memorandum to the Council on April 19, 2007. This was done shortly after the time period for the collection of signatures for the referendum commenced.
It is clear that the Prosecutor’s office was intending to torpedo this referendum and cover their tracks from the start of the process. I filed a request for documents from the County in order to understand how the idea of suing the maker of the referendum originated. The Prosecutors office has denied access to these documents. Apparently open government is not a priority in this County. Covering up the reason for the lawsuit is their main concern.
This action by the Council and the Prosecuting Attorney will have a chilling effect on all future efforts to use the power of initiative and referendum, a power reserved by the people under the Charter. The reason? They do not want citizens to question their authority. They do not want the people to vote on this issue. It is as simple as that.
The question is not just about controlling storm water. Most people support reasonable solutions that promote clean water. The question is really about fairness. Is it fair to force people living in all rural areas of the county to pay for the cost of growth in urban areas? Should rural land owners on different islands in unique drainage areas, be forced to pay for the improved value of real estate in urban areas because they have a ditch near their parcel that this Ordinance magically changed into a “storm water facility”?
The answer to this question of fairness is exactly the answer the Council doesn’t want to hear. That is why they are blocking the citizen’s right to vote. That is why they want to sue us if we dare question their authority.