The petition drive concerning the occupancy tax and funds to the Golden Spike dominated the voting at the Feb. 16 City Council meeting, though there was not much discussion to be had.The council capped three straight votes on the petition by unanimously opting to challenge the initiative in court.
First, the council put on file a letter from Lincoln County Clerk Rebecca Rossell stating that after court ordered review of two previously discarded sheets of signatures, the petition had reached enough valid signatures to appear on the May ballot.
The vote to place the letter on file passed 7-1 (Jim Parish, Second Ward, against).
Next, the council voted against simply adopting the petition’s proposal as an ordinance. The council voted 7-1 against (Harry Spohn, first ward, for) amending ordinance 3785. The change would have mandated that any money generated by the occupancy tax left over after the Spike’s loan payments had been paid be returned to the city’s general fund as property tax relief.
Finally, the council voted 8-0 in favor of filing a lawsuit in Lincoln County District Court challenging the propriety of the petition drive itself.
The lawsuit’s aim is three-fold, according to the meeting’s agenda. It will claim that:
• An initiative or referendum cannot interfere with contractual obligations. Former Mayor Jim Whitaker raised the possibility at a public hearing in January that the change in how the occupancy tax is allocated could violate the terms of the United States Department of Agriculture’s $4.3 million loan to build the Golden Spike.
• The petition initiative violates two Nebraska statutes by attempting to both amend and enact an ordinance by the same measure.
• The petition initiative violates the Nebraska constitution in that it seeks to combine two or more separate and unrelated questions into a single proposition for submission to the voters.
The council did not discuss any of the Spike related votes, though the council and administration held a lengthy executive session following the Feb. 2 meeting.
The meeting adjourned without public comment, which upset at least two citizens who had planned to address the council.
Tuesday’s votes came on the heels of a wave of petition related activity in 2010.
On Jan. 19, the council voted 5-3 against resubmitting five disputed pages of signatures to Rossell. The pages had been discarded initially because of what were called “clerical errors.” The drive fell a mere 30 valid signatures short of what it needed to get on the valid.
Petition sponsor William Tilgner filed a lawsuit in district court Jan. 25, and that same day Judge John Murphy issued a writ of mandamus compelling Rossell to consider the pages.
Rossell decided to accept two of the five pages Jan. 29, and on Tuesday the council placed on file her letter stating that the required number of signatures had been reached.
In business, the council:
• Approved a One and Six year road plan. The plan is required to be submitted annually to the Board of Public Roads Classifications and Standards in order for the city to continue receiving $150,000 a month in state funding. The document must be submitted by Feb. 28.
Tom Werblow took the podium and noted that a project planned for North Highway 83 this June would not have a cost to the city, contrary to what appeared in the plan. Werblow said the project was a state department of roads work.
The council voted to submit the amended plan 8-0.
• Voted 8-0 to extend parking time within the city parking lot between Bailey and Jeffers to eight hours.
• Voted 8-0 to create a street improvement district in the area of Fourteenth Street and Sherman.
• Passed consent agenda 8-0, including approving Farmers State Bank as a depository bank for city funds, accepting the re-appointment of Mike Nozicka to the board of adjustment, and accepting re-appointments of Ricahrd Keeten, Cynthia Gutschenritter, and Deb Hansen to the Animal Control Commission.