In a Certificate of Insufficiency dated July 28, 2016, City Clerk Cynthia Bonham denied the validity of the citizens petition that seeks to prevent a new library from being built in Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Park. On August 8, the committee appealed that decision to the Commission, which upheld the finding of the City Clerk.
Petition ‘Insufficient’ for Three Reasons
Each of the three reasons for insufficiency contains the following language.
“Despite being labeled a citizen initiative, the Petition requires the reconsideration of City Ordinance No. 3020-15 enacted on November 23, 2015, and the City Commission’s affirmative votes to locate the library and events center in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park occurring at the City Commission meeting occurring on or about October 26, 2015.” [Emphasis Added]
For the full text, go to pages 69-70 of the August 8, 2016, Commission Agenda Packet. agdpkt-2016-08-08.pdf
Law + Motion = Confusion
Speaking on behalf of the petitioners, Attorney Virginia Cassady of the firm Shepard, Smith & Cassady P.A., described what she saw as the fallacy in the reasoning contained in the Certificate of Insufficiency. An ordinance carries the weight of law, while a vote by the Commission does not. “Essentially,” said Cassady, “it’s bootstrapping a vote by you [the Commission] to the ordinance that was adopted and passed in November, when in the ordinance itself there is absolutely no mention of MLK Park.”
Does Library Have to be in MLK Park?
Both the City Attorney and the City Manager have said on several occasions that the library/events center could be built somewhere other than MLK Park. Rather than trying to overturn the bond referendum, the petitioners seek an alternate location for the library.
AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF WINTER PARK, FLORIDA, PROHIBITING THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE WINTER PARK LIBRARY AT MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. PARK . . . .
For the full text, go to page123 of the Agenda Packet at the above link.
‘Initiative’ or ‘Referendum’?
The conflict between the petitioners’ committee and the City arises from the City’s position that the petition constitutes a Referendum, referred to in Section 5.02 of the City Charter, rather than an Initiative, as described in Section 5.01.
(See link above, page 129 of the Agenda Packet, for the Charter text.)
Basically, a Referendum requires the Commission to reconsider (i.e., overturn) an ordinance that has already been adopted.
An Initiative gives voters the right to submit their own proposed ordinance to the Commission. If the Commission fails to adopt the proposed ordinance, the ordinance must be taken to a full city election to be adopted or rejected.
City Attorney Offers No Written Guidance
Interestingly, the question of whether the petition is an initiative or a referendum is a legal determination. Yet, only the City Clerk has spoken. No legal opinion from Attorney Ardaman appears in the August 8 Agenda Packet.
City Attorney Has Some Advice for the City Clerk
In a memo dated May 8, 2016, the City Attorney writes to the City Clerk, “. . .if you conclude that the Petitioners Committee Affidavit and proposed ordinance constitute a Referendum as described under Section 5.02 of the Charter rather than an Initiative under Section 5.01 of the Charter, rather than waiting until after Mr. Poole and the Petitioner’s Committee expend substantial effort to obtain the signed petitions, the following response to Mr. Poole would be appropriate.”
While Attorney Ardaman encouraged the City Clerk to draw her own conclusions, he was kind enough to word the memo for her.
“Mr. Poole,” reads the memo. “The request for petition forms that you submitted to me as the Winter Park City Clerk on Friday, April 29, 2016, is not timely as the petition forms you have requested are based on a Petitioner’s Committee Affidavit and ordinance which appear to constitute a reconsideration or referendum to repeal Ordinance No. ____ and the City Commission’s decision to locate the library and events center in Martin Luther King Park, where the Ordinance was adopted November 23, 2015. Referendum petitions must be filed within 30 days after adoption of the ordinance to be reconsidered.”
Ardaman’s Charge to the Commission
Ardaman’s explanation of the task before the Commission was clear and simple – either uphold or overturn the City Clerk’s Certificate of Insufficiency.
As the Commissioners deliberated, there ensued considerable discussion, concluding with each Commissioner stating his or her position and the reasoning behind it.
Seidel: “This Vote Doesn’t Change the Process”
“I am assuming you are here with your attorney because you intend to take the next step,” said Commissioner Greg Seidel. “So, to me, what happens with this vote doesn’t really change what’s going to happen with the process.” Seidel voted to uphold the petitioners’ appeal.
Sprinkel Defers to City Attorney
“I’m going to support our City,” said Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel, “because I’m following the advice of our attorney.” Sprinkel voted to deny the petitioners’ appeal.
Cooper: “It is a Citizens Petition”
“I also do not believe it reverses the vote on the library,” said Commissioner Carolyn Cooper. “I believe the citizens of Winter Park voted to approve a referendum of up to $30 million to build a new library.” Cooper voted to uphold the petitioners’ appeal.
Weldon: “There Will Be No End to the Lawsuits”
“I have tried to put myself in a position of perspective as to what is the best long-term decision for the City of Winter Park,” said Commissioner Peter Weldon, who voted to deny the petitioners’ appeal.
Leary: “The Petitioners Were Informed Early On . . .”
Mayor Steve Leary stated, “The petitioners were informed early on that this petition was invalid.” Leary cast the deciding vote to deny the petitioners’ appeal.
Cooper Appeals to Commissioners to Let Citizens Choose
In her concluding remarks during the Commissioner’s Report, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper asked the others seated on the dais if it might be possible to allow the residents to vote on the location of the library – to put the issue to rest. “I honestly don’t think it would hurt anything,” said Cooper, “and I believe the people of this city honestly want a new library.”