Thursday, July 12, 2012

Referendum Anyone? (Opinion)

The recent council decision to change Ruston to a code city has not generated much discussion around town. I've talked to several people and done some research, but haven't uncovered many details about what the change will mean. Other than what the town attorney already outlined in her presentation supporting the change (here), here are a few things I discovered:
  • Power: It's a basic change in focus - Ruston is assumed to have all powers not explicitly forbidden; as a town they only had powers specifically allowed under state law. That distinction has been important in some recent lawsuits. It brings Ruston in line with most other municipal governments, but is more governmental power always a good thing?
  • Under the new system, the council can declare an emergency for most ordinances and pass them on first reading. The council is now conducting most of its business via resolutions so there are not many second readings anyway. Again, not always a good thing.
  • Ruston can establish a planning agency and eliminate the planning commission - and hire a hearing examiner.
  • Local Improvement Districts or special tax assessments are now allowed.
  • Citizens now have the power of initiative and referendum. Many felt this was a good change and reason enough on its own to make the switch. There was once talk of a citizen initiative to shut down the casino, so there is probably support for this new power.
  • The mayor will now have veto power and a tie-breaking vote under certain conditions.
  • Ruston can appoint a mayor pro tem for two years rather than the previous 6 month limit.
  • Mayoral appointments can be subject to council approval, reducing the independence of the executive branch.
  • Under this new system, only two appointments are required; police chief and clerk.
The council had the option of putting this change out to a vote. If they had scheduled a vote with the general election this November the cost would be about $800. Town residents have until September 8th to file a referendum to force a public vote by gathering 28 voter signatures (although the deadline to make the November ballot is early August).

One neighbor asked me if I trusted my elected officials to thoroughly research this issue and make the best decision on my behalf. On some issues, yes, I trust my government leaders to decide for me. But in my opinion, a change this significant should have been made by all the voters. Despite my opinion, I don't see enough here to fight this battle. If anyone out there has the energy to start the town's first referendum and force a vote, let me know. I'll be the first to sign!                       


No comments: