BOISE — Questions are still swirling around the possibility of Boiseans getting to vote on the main library and sports park projects this November.
To get some clarity in the increasingly complicated issue, Boise City Council heard a presentation from Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane at its Tuesday meeting. McGrane was able to answer some questions form the council, but the city’s legal authority to put such a question on the ballot is still unknown.
The ballot initiative that qualified potentially creates a two-step process for voters to navigate. If city council does not take action, voters would get to decide in November if they would like a vote on projects of this kind. If they vote yes, then it would set up votes in the future if the city proceeds with the projects.
However, the city council can also choose to adopt the ordinance after the required public hearing on the issue on June 25. This would bypass the “vote for a vote” and eliminate any possible confusion, but McGrane said he is not sure this is legal.
“People want to vote on this issue, but now it’s an issue of whether or not there’s the authority,” McGrane said.
If council chooses to adopt the ordinance and require a vote on the library or the sports park project, it would mean the initiative process would stop and the city would then have to go to McGrane for approval of a ballot question and prove it has the legal authority to do so. Idaho is what’s known as a “Dillon’s Rule” state, which means localities only have powers expressly laid out by the state Legislature, which severely limits what cities can do.
The question of whether or not the city has legal standing to enact an ordinance requiring a vote on any library project set to exceed $25 million or a sports park that costs more than $5 million is still being studied by city attorneys.
City Council Member Holli Woodings acknowledged the frustrating nature of the uncertainty surrounding the issue, but assured the audience she wants to honor their request to vote.
“Maybe one thing that’s become clear is people want to vote on the library,” she said. “I’d like to get the spirit of that and find a path forward on that vote. I’m not totally sure we can do that under the initiative, but I think as we’re muddling through this and figuring out what we can and cannot do that’s the spirit we’re approaching it with.”
David Klinger, one of the activists behind citizens group Boise Working Together, which gathered signatures for the ballot initiatives, said he hoped the city would move forward with passing the initiative language as an ordinance.
“We did our work and it is not the city’s responsibility to try and figure out whether to have a vote or not, it’s their responsibility to not spend money in the absence of an affirmative vote from the citizenry,” he said.