History of Efforts to Keep the Spokane Community Bill of Rights Initiative off the Ballot

by: Posted on: July 08, 2013

 

Corporate interests have repeatedly gone to the Spokane City Council to keep the Community Bill of Rights initiative off the ballot. The initiative has now qualified for the ballot three times, garnering over 49 percent of the vote in 2011.

In 2009, the business community successfully had the City Council place “poison pill” questions on the ballot, to influence voters against the initiative.  They attempted the same in 2011.  This spring they sought to have the City Council pass a resolution in support of the mayor filing a suit to block the measures from the ballot.  Failing to gain the vote of a majority of the council, the business community quickly turned its attention to the county, where it successfully persuaded commissioners to partner in a lawsuit against the initiatives.

Timeline 2008-2013:  History of the Community Bill of Rights Citizens’ Initiative and Efforts to Block it from the Ballot

The June 21 filing of the lawsuit against Envision Spokane and Spokane Moves to Amend is the most recent action by Spokane’s corporate interests and like-minded elected officials to block citizens’ initiatives from reaching the ballot.  The lawsuit may be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/149276479/InitiativeComplaint.

In May, several members of the Spokane City Council – who are now named plaintiffs in the lawsuit – failed to garner the necessary votes to adopt a resolution requesting that Spokane Mayor David Condon take legal action against the Community Bill of Rights and Voter Bill of Rights.

Nearly every corporate entity listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit spoke at the City Council meeting when the vote was taken.  They were unanimous in wanting the City to take legal action to prevent the initiatives from ever being voted on by the people.  Facing tremendous public pressure to not interfere with the right of citizens to initiative, the Council voted the measure down 4 to 3.

Envision Spokane – a community group based in the City – first qualified the Community Bill of Rights to the November 2009 ballot.  The group qualified a new Community Bill of Rights initiative to the 2011 ballot, where it garnered over 49 percent of the vote.  This spring, Envision Spokane successfully qualified the initiative to the ballot for a third time.

Below is a history of actions taken by corporate interests and local government to block the Community Bill of Rights citizens’ initiative from reaching the ballot:

2008-2009

  • Attempted exposé by the Spokane Homebuilders Association to discredit individual members of Envision Spokane (Envision Spokane publicized the effort and the investigation stopped)
  • Public records request filed by the Spokane Homebuilders Association in an attempt to find impropriety against a board member of Envision Spokane who is a public employee
  • Attempted legal challenge by the Spokane City Council, led by then-Councilor Al French, to block the Community Bill of Rights from being on the ballot (the effort was thwarted by pressure from the public and Envision Spokane)
  • Ballot advisory questions, proposed by Al French and adopted by the City Council, insinuating that taxes will go up and services will be cut if voters support the Community Bill of Rights (the City Council voted to place the questions on the ballot ahead of the Community Bill of Rights initiative, significantly affecting the vote; the Spokesman-Review referred to the advisory questions as “poison pills”)
  • $350,000 of corporate money was raised to defeat the Community Bill of Rights (80% of monies came from corporate interests outside Spokane)
  • Overhaul of the initiative and referendum process introduced by Al French (tabled by the City Council under pressure from the public and Envision Spokane)

2011-2012

  • Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin proposed a series of advisory questions similar to those put forward in 2009 (facing public pressure, the City Council voted them down 4 to 3)
  • Corporate interests once again raised thousands of dollars to defeat the Community Bill of Rights
  • An overhaul of the initiative and referendum process was re-introduced by City Councilors Steve Salvatori and Mike Fagan (despite overwhelming public testimony at an open-house and City Council meeting opposing the overhaul, the Council voted 4 to 3 to make it more difficult for citizens to qualify an initiative for the ballot)

2013

  • A resolution to authorize the mayor to take legal action against the Community Bill of Rights was sponsored by City Councilors Mike Allen, Nancy McLaughlin, and Steve Salvatori (facing significant public pressure, the Council voted against the resolution 4 to 3)
  • Legal challenge filed by Spokane County Commissioners, led by Commissioner Al French, and Spokane’s corporate interests (pending)

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