Will Marion defend our right to vote?
Marion’s city council is at a crossroads. At its meeting Monday, it can choose to stumble down a costly, time-consuming path of negativity and divisiveness. Or it can enhance Marion’s reputation as a leader in a righteous battle against big-money efforts to trick cities into taking away voters’ rights.
At a time when many worry about ballots being stolen, it can persist in defending a move that would steal not just some but all ballots in bond elections, now and for years to come.
Or it can stand up to a bond firm that tried to manipulate the city into generating even more high-dollar business for the firm by needlessly eliminating taxpayers’ rights to vote on whether to saddle their community to long-term debt and for what purposes.
Outside interests seeking to expand their own profitability at city expense will falsely claim that the issue involves whether needed street repairs will be delayed or property taxes increased.
These are bald-faced lies. If the city wanted to borrow to make needed street repairs, existing law would have allowed it to have placed the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot and, if approved, start the project immediately afterward. It also, without bonding, could have used sales tax revenue for constructing industrial park streets.
Instead, a Wichita bond firm tried to get the city to exempt itself from state law so that elections on most bonds never would be required and so that borrowing could be more extensive, for a range of things other than street repairs.
At most, the loophole would have shortened the timeline for street repairs by less than a month. At worst, it would have opened the door to nigh-on secret borrowing, without even notifying voters, for all manner of things other than a set of street repairs thought to be popular enough to win voter approval.
The council’s vote this summer for a charter ordinance written by the very firm that the ordinance would benefit is what will end up delaying needed repairs.
Under law, the ordinance was subject to challenge by petition. A legally approved petition bearing twice the number of required signatures was delivered to the city last week.
If the city chooses to keep pressing forward with the bond firm’s charter ordinance, it now must schedule a separate referendum on it. It’s too late to add that to the Nov. 8 ballot, so it would have to much later, at substantial added cost. If, as predicted by response to the petition, voters reject the ordinance, yet another costly referendum — as much as a year away — would be needed to approve what simply and inexpensively could have been added to the ballot we’ll be receiving in less than a month.
The only sensible thing for the city council to do is to vote Monday to abandon the bond firm’s charter ordinance and go ahead with obtaining voter approval for a specific list of street projects, not some laundry list of unrelated projects, so taxpayers will know exactly what they will be voting on.
It’s embarrassing that the city was so easily tricked by its bond firm, which should be even more ashamed of its unethical attempts to undermine democracy to make additional bond sales.
Still, the city can wipe away that embarrassment by doing the right thing and rejecting the bond firm’s attempts to subvert democracy and encourage reckless borrowing like that of the home mortgage crisis in 2008.
Refusing to wage a negative and divisive battle to shove Charter Ordinance 22 though should be the council’s first order of business Monday.
— ERIC MEYER