Those gathering petitions to force a referendum on the chief operating officer proposal may have less time than they figured.
Though the law says they have 45 days from the time the City Council gave its final rejection to the idea to gather the more than 3,000 signatures needed, it isn’t clear whether that means they can turn in the petitions on the last day or if the names have to be certified by the city clerk within 45 days.
Dale Clift, the city attorney, said he’s not taking a position on the question unless he’s asked to provide a legal opinion on the issue.
But organizers of the petition drive that began last week are concerned they have may have as few as 35 days to get the petitions filed in order to give City Clerk Therese Pac time to check them over within the statutory deadline.
“Games are being played already at City Hall,” said rookie Republican city Councilor Ken Cockayne, one of the leaders of the petition drive.
Cockayne said he asked Clift on Friday for a formal opinion on the petition deadline issue.
But veteran Democratic Councilor Craig Minor said he’s not worried about it.
Minor, who teamed up with Cockayne to push the proposal that the council rejected, said he believes the needed petitions will be filed in plenty of time so that the question of the final deadline is moot.
Minor said that if everyone who took out petitions manages to get them filled in and returned, more than 2,000 signatures are already in the works.
Cockayne also said that the petition drive is going well.
But, he said, “I want my full 45 days.”
The Charter Revision Commission, which recently completed its work, recommended the city create a chief operating officer post to handle administrative oversight and provide long-term planning.
Supporters of the position said it would bring greater efficiency to City Hall and save taxpayers money in the long run.
But Mayor Art Ward and four of the six city councilors rejected the idea. They said it wouldn’t help or it would cost too much money.
If the council had approved it, the public would have the final say on the proposed charter change. It would have been on the November 4 ballot.
If the petition drive succeeds, voters will still get the chance to have the last word.
Cockayne said the petition drive is going well because “I’ve found people are upset that this wasn’t put on the ballot.”
He said many people who don’t necessarily agree with the concept nonetheless “felt very strongly that people should be able to vote on this.”
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