A settling influence

A settling influence
We've talked about this topic several times on this page over the years.

Now is as good a time as any to remind readers how we stand on the initiative and referendum process.

Last week, we noted that we were disappointed that citizens will have to take on a crucial leadership role themselves by referring the Crawford Road issue to a public vote.

We want to make crystal clear that feelings of disapproval lie not in the referendum or initiative process, but in this instance in which city leaders failed to adequately lead.

"I believe in the initiative and referendum, which should be used not to destroy representative government, but to correct it whenever it becomes misrepresentative."

Teddy Roosevelt

When it comes to city government, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

Citizens of Vermillion have learned that firsthand in recent years. The Vermillion City Council has been faced with one dilemma after the other. Approximately 10 years ago, property owners were upset with the design of the street and sidewalk leading to the new Bluffs Clubhouse.

For over two years, the council had to contend with conflict of interest issues that finally were settled thanks to a new state law and a judge's ruling.

Chaos erupted one summer when it came time to award bids for the construction of the new fire hall. During heated debate, it was noted at a council meeting that if citizens were unhappy with the aldermen's final decision, they could refer it to a public vote.

But when it came time to award bids, everyone � from the general citizenry to the city council members � learned for the first time that voters had no say in the matter because it had become an administrative decision.

Casey's General Stores wanted to build a gas station and convenience store on the corner of Dakota and Cherry streets a few years ago. The city council changed the zoning of the proposed business site from residential to commercial. Unlike the fire station issue, however, citizens were successful in referring that decision to a public vote. They overturned the council's action.

"For 20 years I preached to the students of Princeton that the referendum and the recall was bosh. I have since investigated and I want to apologize to those students. It is the safeguard of politics. It takes power from the boss and places it in the hands of the people."

Woodrow Wilson

Controversy once again reared its head at city hall when the city wanted to spend $1.3 million of city and federal funds to widen, add curb and gutter, and pave a narrow, winding stretch of Chestnut Street that links Dakota and University streets. The project required the construction of a large retaining wall between the street and nearby railroad tracks.

Some citizens, especially property owners in the area, voiced concerns about the project's cost, traffic numbers, safety, lighting and its possible impact on the environment.

A number of people decided to do more than give the city council lip service. They circulated petitions to refer this decision to a public vote.

"I know of no safer depository of the ultimate power of society but the people themselves."

Thomas Jefferson

We have a similar situation brewing in Vermillion right now concerning Crawford Road. The city council's recent problems with leadership on this issue will mean we likely will go to the polls and vote on whether to link Crawford with Burbank Road.

South Dakota's legal grounds for initiative and referendum are unique. Article III, Section 1 of the state constitution extends these powers to voters on state and municipal questions. According to state law, legislative decisions are subject to the referendum process.

A legislative decision is one that enacts a permanent law or lays down a rule of conduct or course of policy for the guidance of citizens or their officers. Any matter of a permanent or general character is a legislative decision.

Just like the people whose quotes grace this column, we're a big fan of the initiative and referendum process. At the same time, we recognize that it is a process that can be abused � we don't propose running willy-nilly through town circulating petitions every time things don't go your way at city hall. We hope citizens always use their best discretion when bringing an issue to a public vote.

A public vote is one of the best ways to settle controversy.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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