Are we headed into a new era of citizen legislation? We could be.
A citizen-backed initiative limiting where big retail builders can be built is headed for the March ballot. A anti-cell phone tax referendum was rendered moot when the city council repealed that tax and want to send the question to the voters themselves.
Two ballot measures in the matter of six months from Keizer citizens is a sign that times are a-changing. The public wants a hand in decisions that affect their daily lives. Our system of government allows just about anything to be placed on the ballot by the people as long as it has the requisite number of signatures.
We have all seen election ballots that are filled with initiatives and referendums. This is democracy in its most basic and glorious form—the people having their say when they don’t get the result they seek from their elected officials.
For Keizer the issue is money. Unless there is a process in which a citizen-driven initiative is always sent to the next scheduled election, the cost would get out of hand very quickly. The special election in March for the building limitation question will cost the city about $20,000 to conduct. March 8, the election date, is not on Marion County’s regular election schedule (there are scheduled elections in May and November). Now imagine if there were three or ten such initiatives filed with the city each year.
We would never want to curtail the public’s right to petition citizens and place a question on the ballot. Is there a way to change the process so initatives, either from the public or the city can placed only on primary or general election ballots? That change would not circumvent the democratic process but make it more efficient and less costly.
The citizens elect a mayor and a council to do the city’s business. Those seven people hold public hearings, debate and then vote based on what they feel is in the best interests of Keizer. Some may say “Let them do their job.” They do their job, but sometimes their decisions hit a nerve in some quarters that result in petition drives and initiatives.
With tight city budgets and a raft of funding needs we may see more drives by the public to place questions on the ballot to direct the city to fund this program or cut that program.
Mayor Lore Christopher’s call for an election to amend to the city charter to earmark general fund monies for the police department will certainly appease those whose number one priority is public safety. But the city council shouldn’t get into the habit of referring questions to the ballot it doesn’t want to decide on their own.
By using the bully pulpit of their positions, the mayor and councilors can persuade the public that the actions they take are for the benefit of the city and its citizens. After that, if the public doesn’t agree, they can get out their pens and their petitions. It’s the way our government is designed.