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A bid for election do-over

Kaye Ferry

The heat has just been turned up! On Monday, a petition was presented to the town of Vail asking that the question of the conference center return to the voters. The initial plan was to feed on the irony of April Fool’s Day. But alas, the town clerk was out of the office, so the filing got moved to Monday. To clarify the process involved, I’ll refer as much as necessary directly to the charter. Keep in mind that there are two petition options, initiative and referendum. Because this document involves an initiative, that is all I will reference here today. Per Section 5.1 of the Vail Town Charter: “The registered electors of the town shall have the power to propose any ordinance to the council, in accordance with the provisions of this article of the charter. In the event council fails to adopt said proposed ordinance without any change in substance, the said proposed ordinance shall be submitted to the registered electors at a town election for their acceptance or rejection.”So the process has started. Five concerned citizens had a legal document prepared in the form of an ordinance and put before the town clerk with an affidavit stating (per Section 5.2) they “will constitute the petitioners’ committee and be responsible for circulating the petition and filing it in proper form stating their names and addresses and specifying the addresses to which all notices to the committee are to be sent and setting out in full the proposed initiative ordinance or signing the ordinance sought to be reconsidered.”After a review by the town attorney, the town clerk’s role is to issue the appropriate petition blanks to the petitioners’ committee within five days. Once they receive those blanks, the committee will have 180 days to collect signatures of registered voters in the town of Vail equal to 15 percent of the voters registered at the last municipal election. In this case, that equates to 538 certified signatures that will be required. Notice that I say “certified” because once the signed petition is returned to the town clerk, her job will be to certify that each of the signatures meets the legal requirements. Because there are often mistakes made, it usually means that an extra 30 percent are collected as a cushion.And what constitutes a mistake? People sign without realizing that they are not registered in Vail to vote. Others sign, yet when checked, they have moved to a new address (even though it may still be in the town) and have not officially recorded that move, rendering them ineligible to sign the petition. And the list goes on.But back to the process. Within 10 days after the petition is filed, the town clerk shall complete a certificate as to its sufficiency. The steps are quite detailed as how to rectify a petition that is not certified, but just keep in mind that there are provisions to remedy, including a council review and ultimately a court review if all other means fail.When an initiative petition has been finally determined sufficient, the council shall promptly consider the proposed initiative ordinance. “The council shall have power to change the detailed language of any proposed initiative ordinance and to affix the title thereto, so long as the general character of the measure will not be substantially altered … by a three-fourths majority vote of the entire council.”They then decide whether to allow a first reading of such ordinance or to send it to a vote. If a vote is to be the next step, that must be held “not less than 30 days and not later than 90 days from the date of the final council vote thereon. If no regular town election is to be held within the period prescribed, … the council shall provide for a special election. Copies of the proposed ordinances shall be made available to the public within a reasonable time before the election and also at the polls at the time of the election.”But just because this petition is finally signed, sealed and delivered does not mean that a vote’s the only option. As I mentioned, the council can decide to proceed with a first and second reading of the proposed ordinance. They can also decide right now to deep-six the whole conference center idea, therefore making the petition redundant. And there’s another option. They can address the real concern of the petitioners’ committee, which is to assure the voters that the capital and operational deficits cannot fall to the general fund, which of course translates ultimately to the taxpayer. If the issue is resolved without the need for a vote, there is also a detailed procedure that must be followed to withdraw the proposed petition.So there you have it. Certainly more than you ever wanted to know about such a complicated process. But the really good news is that this is what America is all about. In some places in the world, you can be arrested for even mentioning such a thing. In others, you may not face the firing squad, but surely an option such as this isn’t even on the radar screen.While the community will certainly choose sides in this argument, before you get your gloves on and put your dukes up, take a minute to be thankful that this choice is available. And then educate yourself, participate in the public debate and vote if it comes to that. Remember, the original vote only won 851-801.To contact the Vail Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, visit vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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