Crawford conflict

Crawford conflict
City Finance Officer Mike Carlson has been busy this week, checking the validity of over 360 signatures on initiative petitions filed by a community organization named Friends of Crawford Road.

City Attorney Jim McCulloch has also been occupied by a search of legal precedents.

He is seeking guidance from the South Dakota Municipal League, the South Dakota Attorney General's office and the South Dakota Secretary of State's office, hoping to find the answer to the latest question to arise in the Crawford Road controversy.

Can Vermillion citizens be presented with two competing questions on this fall's ballot?

A November election to decide whether Crawford Road will be extended south is already a certainty after citizens filed initiative petitions on April 20 to challenge the Vermillion City Council's April 3 decision to not extend Crawford Road.

The goal of this citizen action is to have Crawford Road developed in the manner that's been discussed for years, to provide a north-south motor transportation link with Burbank Road.

The latest action

The latest action involving Crawford, according to Virginia Johnson and Mark Wetmore, who addressed a recent city council meeting, is a separate initiative calling for the development of a bike path rather than a street.

Supporters of this option have, for months now, called the area around their residences Crawford Woods because of the trees growing on the bluff in the neighborhood.

Supporters of this option say it would consist of four privately owned lots and land owned by the city adjacent to these lots.

The proposed bike path and nature walk would follow the bottom of the ravine from Crestview Drive to Burbank Road. Proponents say it could be built to the standards of Vermillion's other bike paths and include a wider resting area large enough to accommodate a park bench.

Competing options on ballot?

McCulloch said no decisions have yet been made on whether both issues can be presented on November's general election ballot. One of the challenges he's facing is that a scenario of two opposing questions appearing on the same ballot has apparently never occurred in South Dakota.

"In California, they have a rule out there that when you have conflicting initiative ballot measures, if they both get the majority of the vote, then the one that gets the most affirmative votes is the one that prevails," McCulloch said. "We don't have that law in South Dakota."

In his calls to the attorney general's office, the secretary of state's office and the South Dakota Municipal League, "no one can ever remember an instance of competing or conflicting petitions being filed, so we're still trying to figure it out," he said.

Street supporters

Petitions were filed with city hall in April by citizens supporting the Crawford Street connection after the city council, despite hearing from Crawford extension supporters at its April 3 meeting, maintained its initial decision to scrap plans for Crawford.

Bike trail proponents

The Friends of Crawford Woods argue that the option they hope to place before voters will be much less destructive to their neighborhood.

As Mark Wetmore states in a letter to the editor in this week's Plain Talk, the proposal would permanently save an accessible nature area in the city, provide a safe pedestrian/bicycle connection, avoid routing arterial traffic through an established residential area, avoid condemning land from at least five families and avoid up to $1.7 million, the maximum estimated cost of the road project.

Seeking answers

McCulloch hopes to identify and address all issues that may affect both sides as the November election approaches.

State law, for example, calls for governing bodies that have been presented petitions to submit the question raised on the petition on at the next scheduled election. Pending the election, the governing body may take no action with respect to the subject matter of the petition that would alter the effect of the proposed petition.

"The question gets to be, by putting this (the Crawford Woods initiative) on the ballot,

is the city council taking action that alters the

initiative filed last spring?" McCulloch said.

On the same token, South Dakota has a "liberal construction" of referendum petitions, he said.

"When in doubt, we're supposed to grant the elections," McCulloch said.

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