The Tuesday, May 7, City of Lincoln General Election ballot has two proposed amendments to the [gs City Charter]. Understandably, voters are looking for additional information about those amendments before heading to the polls.
Ballot questions – regardless of subject – seem to be the most daunting aspect of voting. For one thing, most are written in a language that cannot be called plain English. The word I most often hear is “legalese”. Beyond that, unless an issue has become “hot button”, or was proposed with an orchestrated political strategy1 One example of an election strategy that involved a ballot question was the George W. Bush re-election campaign in 2004. President Bush publicly ...continue, there is scant media attention and nearly zero advocacy. How many TV, radio ads, or mailers do any of us see about ballot questions2 I know most people don’t want more mailers or more ads, so do note, I’m just pointing to an indicator.?
For this election and for the two questions, I’ll offer two kinds of recommendations. I encourage you to read both, but, *spoiler alert* they end the same way.
Vote NO on both of the proposed amendments on the ballot.
Voting no is the right thing to do, without any regard for the substance of either amendment. A majority of NO votes could and should send a message to the sitting members of our City Council, any candidates who are elected, and to the Mayor, that citizens refuse to consider ANY further amendments or other questions, unless or until they follow the letter of the law.
Our City Council has been violating the law for nearly a year. In May, 2012, there was a successful referendum petition within 15 days of the Council’s approval of an ordinance. Under State law and Lincoln Municipal Code, that means:
1) The ordinance in question could not become law
2) The ordinance must be put on a ballot and decided by voters
Even without a special election, which does come with considerable expense, the Lincoln City Council has failed to comply with the law. The more that passes, the more egregious this violation becomes. There are have been three opportunities to place the required question on Lincolnites’ ballots without the expense of a special election. There was ample time to place the ordinance question on the November 2012 General Election ballot, on the April 9 City of Lincoln Primary ballot, and on the Tuesday, May 7 General Election ballot.
- If the City Council had the time to take up NEW ideas to place before voters, why didn’t they have time to ensure a required ballot item gets placed?
- Ideology and maneuvering is overrunning good governance – both are preventing compliance with the law and drove the two new items onto the ballot.
The only reason the Council has been able to ignore the law is that there is a loophole – there is no definitive amount of time stated by which any such matter must be placed on a ballot. Such a deadline shouldn’t be necessary – but, see also “Vacancy on City Council”, below – it’s obviously necessary.
For the moment, absent legal action, the opportunity available to voters is to send the message as I’ve described3Please note that in addition to the ongoing violation of the law described, it’s also a fact that the City Council chose to take up a proposed ...continue.
Substantive, worth the read
To see the full language of both amendments, click HERE for a full-size image of the sample ballot.
Conflicts of Interest in City Contracts – Vote NO
This proposed amendment has been referred to as the “Good government” amendment. Voters should understand that the origin of this proposal was purely short-sighted politics. You can read more about that HERE.
- Beyond the political motives, this amendment is very bad policy and sends an anti-business message about Lincoln.
- Should we signal that we are hostile to business owners as a city?
- And do we want no business owners on our City Council? Only business owners of a certain kind?
- Should we make potential candidates choose between their livelihood or a position on the City Council?
The idea of preventing conflicts of interest and ensuring solid ethics are followed is a worthy idea, but this is not the way to do either, here’s why:
- This amendment very narrowly targets business owners on the City Council, the Mayor, and Department heads, but doesn’t prevent potential conflicts or ethics problems for any other type of City employee, their immediate family members, etc.
- What about City Council members who are employed by an entity which holds a city contract? What about Council members who sit on a board of an entity that holds a City contract?
- Note that Council candidate Leirion Gaylor Baird’s husband has a city contract, which has been revealed during the course of the campaign. Under this amendment, unless Gaylor Baird herself held interest in the company, that contract would be excluded from the ban4 In addition to the fact that Gaylor Baird’s husband and the existing contract provides an example of the fact that the “conflicts of ...continue.
This is not a new problem – better solutions certainly exist – in fact, some are already in place in Lincoln. Improvements could be made. For a City Council member the solution is obvious:
If a member of the Council (or their immediate family) holds an ownership interest in a company that holds a contract with the City, that member should file a notice of potential conflict of interest and abstain from voting on the matter. In addition, there could be a requirement that the business in question must be represented before the Council by an individual who is not the Council member themselves, in the event that should be necessary.
Vacancy on City Council – Vote NO
This Charter Amendment has unfortunate political origins as well, and an explanation regarding them are included in the same article referred to above (click here to read about it).
A read of the Amendment’s language reveals something unsettling about the Lincoln City Council: we need a Charter Amendment for our City Council to follow procedures? Why aren’t they doing this already????
Today was the first time I closely inspected this proposed amendment’s language. I’m just plain astonished. I think we have bigger problems – anybody with me on that? If not, please go back up and read what I wrote under “Principled, quick”. Is it any wonder that the City Council is taking advantage of a legal loophole (not place an item on the ballot)? There is apparently a history of the body treating the actual Charter language as a loophole, and the language here proves it5 Unfortunately, a regular practice of circumventing existing law is not new to current City officials. So note, I only conveyed shock because it ...continue.
If there are issues with the manner by which a vacancy is filled on our City Council, there are better ways to solve the problem. I actually don’t like either the procedures as stated or the traditional practice6 See this article for a description of the traditional practice..
Under the stated procedures (in the City Charter, Article IV, Section 19):
- City Council members nominate and vote on any potential replacement to fill a vacancy (by a majority of four members).
- Replacements have the potential to sit on the Council for as long as two years, because, Charter language specifies the length of a potential vacancy as continuing based on “the next general city election”.
In addition to recommending a NO vote on this absurd amendment, I’d actually recommend a new proposed amendment in the future with the following considerations in mind:
- Consider a pathway for a simple, legally constituted petition process by which candidates could be nominated by members of the public – similar to those provided in Nebraska law for write-in candidates, nominations, etc.
- Requirement that any vacant seat be placed on the NEXT AVAILABLE ballot, for which there are two per year; in even years there is a primary in May and a general election in November.
- Vacant seats filled by election in the manner I’ve described should still expire according to their usual schedule as to not upset the rotating nature of the elections for the Council – about half of the Council is up for election every two years.
There is no reason to wait until the next City election to allow the people of a district or the whole city, in the event the seat is At Large, to choose their representative.
Notes & References [ + ]
|1.||↑||One example of an election strategy that involved a ballot question was the George W. Bush re-election campaign in 2004. President Bush publicly endorsed the concept of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to recognize marriage as one man, one woman. As a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) strategy, significant GOP efforts were extended to get proposed amendments to state constitutions introduced, and in many states they were, and successfully passed.|
|2.||↑||I know most people don’t want more mailers or more ads, so do note, I’m just pointing to an indicator.|
|3.||↑||Please note that in addition to the ongoing violation of the law described, it’s also a fact that the City Council chose to take up a proposed ordinance that they were not legally empowered to pass under Nebraska law, which is explained in detail, with references and citations in an article here.|
|4.||↑||In addition to the fact that Gaylor Baird’s husband and the existing contract provides an example of the fact that the “conflicts of interest” aspect of the proposed amendment could have marginal value, there are questions regarding why Gaylor Baird didn’t file the required disclosure form as a City Council candidate.|
|5.||↑||Unfortunately, a regular practice of circumventing existing law is not new to current City officials. So note, I only conveyed shock because it seems a direct admission, and therefore constitutes an arrogant insult to voters. For examples of the circumventing of laws to which I refer, in addition to the required ballot question, see any of our articles about the Occupy Lincoln issue, such as the one found HERE.|
|6.||↑||See this article for a description of the traditional practice.|