Citizens won't vote on Chestnut project Council decides against referendum by David Lias The Vermillion City Council, faced with two opposing viewpoints concerning Chestnut Street Monday, stuck to a decision it made last month.
A motion made by Alderman Frank Slagle to put the issue to a vote of the people failed by a three � yes, six � no vote.
The motion came after lengthy discussion on City Attorney Martin Weeks' decision last week that the Chestnut Street project is an administrative act, and therefore can't be placed before voters through the referendum process.
Petitions were filed at City Hall Jan. 5 calling for an election to let citizens decide whether the city should spend $1.3 million on the project.
Slagle said he carefully reviewed Weeks' legal opinion and the supporting documents that he provided.
"At what point, in the stage of deliberation of this council, would it have been appropriate for citizens who wanted to refer it to a vote of the people, to have tendered a petition to that effect?" Slagle asked.
Weeks said there were several possibilities, including the time when appropriations were earmarked for the project.
"I think the time that most likely would be appropriate is when (the council) adopted a resolution authorizing the project and allowing the money for it," Weeks said.
Slagle said the action by the council that actually approved the project was taken in December 2000. "I think that would be timely (for a referendum) ? the mere fact that money has been put in the budget does not constitute in and of itself a decision by the council to adopt a plan and go forward with the project."
"That's a question that a court would have to take into consideration if this comes before it," Weeks said.
He added that there is a record of the city council adopting several obscure motions before passing a resolution in early December calling for bids on the street project.
"I think of all the several motions that were considered in the resolution that was adopted, it seems to me that the one that is the least likely to qualify as legislative is the last one," Weeks said.
"We on the council serve here at the pleasure of the voters," Slagle said. "It seems to me at some point we have to say, 'this is an issue that has the voters' attention. They would like to have a say in this.'"
Alderman Roger Kozak admitted he was torn over the issue, because he isn't sure if the council can legally act on the referendum petitions that were filed.
Last summer, Kozak stated that he favored letting citizens vote on the construction of the city's new fire station. It was ruled that no election could take place because the council's action concerning the building was administrative.
"I'm concerned about this action tonight. I was concerned about the fire station," he said, "because then and now there was so much gray area that no one could conclusively define what was adminstrative and what was legislative."
Kozak said he was hopeful the council would not act on the petition, but action would come forward to put the issue in the courts "so that once and for all, we could have a definitive answer on what is and what is not referrable.