On Wednesday, the City’s plan to build a new library, event center and associated parking structure moved one step closer to Martin Luther King, Jr., Park. Judge Margaret Schreiber’s ruling validating a $30 million bond issue included MLK Park as the new building’s location.
Path to the Park May Have Some Bumps
At least one obstacle remains in the path to the park, however. A related but separate legal action is still pending. The issue involves a petition that seeks to prevent a library from being built in MLK Park, signed by more than 2,000 residents. The Save Our Library WP PAC submitted the petition to the City in July 2016. The PAC contends the petition is a “citizens’ initiative” under Sec. 5.01 of the City Charter. A citizens’ initiative has no deadline. The City asserts the petition is a “referendum” under Sec. 5.02 of the City Charter, and is therefore legally insufficient because it missed the filing deadline for a referendum.
Referendum or Citizens’ Initiative?
The PAC has asked the court to decide the petition question. Their case is moving ahead in the Orange County Circuit Court. It has been assigned to a panel of three circuit court judges — Jennifer Harris, Thomas W. Turner and John Kest.
At this point, no one knows how or if the judges’ ruling in this case will affect the final chapter of the library story. The only certainty is that the case is now before the judges, and the judges will issue a ruling some time in late 2016 or early 2017.
In its filing, the PAC rejected the city’s argument that the action requested in their petition would result in the repeal of the bond ordinance. That position, they said, “thwarts the citizens’ democratic ability to legislate by initiative . . . [The Commission’s] decision is a classic example of an act of quasi-judicial tyranny” and violates the citizens’ right to due process.
The PAC also asserted the new library and the new location are two separate issues, since the site was not mentioned on the March 15 ballot, which passed by a narrow margin. The PAC cited the legal “single-purpose rule,” which states that any proposition going to voters must address a single purpose. “This rule guards against logrolling, a practice of rolling separate issues into a single proposition . . .to obtain approval of what might be a controversial or unpopular vote.”
Any Reasonable Voter
Judge Schreiber disagreed. “Given the overwhelming information about the location of the Project on the site of the existing civic center in MLK Park,” Schreiber states in her Final Judgment, “a reasonable voter in the City could only have understood the Bond Referendum to mean that the new library and events center and related facilities would be built on the site of the current civic center.”
PAC Awaits Decision on Petition
Michael Poole, president of the Save Our Library WP PAC, said of Judge Schreiber’s decision, “The judge’s ruling surprised us, but we are still focused on making sure the citizens have the ability to vote for the location. We are moving forward with our suit.”
No Scheduled Demo for Rachel Murrah Civic Center
Anticipating construction of the new facility, there had been talk at the Commission level of demolishing the existing Rachel Murrah Civic Center in January 2017. Winter Park Director of Communications Clarissa Howard said, however, that the City is in a wait-and-see posture. She confirmed that, at present, there is no schedule for the demolition of the Murrah Civic Center.