Clerk Declares Library Petition Insufficient
Petitioners’ Appeal Fails to Sway Commission
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.”
The city will do what it wants no matter what the people want. The site of new library was not on ballot. It probably would have been voted against if we had known the location.
The City Commissioner’s are not working for the residents of this fine community. We do not need a new library period. Refurbishing of the existing library makes perfect sense.
A library is not a destination. The younger generation does not desire a library.
You voted for/against a $30 M bond referendum and you had no idea where it was to be located? I find that hard to believe.
We would like to see a vote from residents over location of new library. This will put the location to rest. And we might be able to
Plover on to other important issues in our community.
The people of Winter Park need Commissioners who work for the citizens instead of their egos. We the citizens get nothing back for our big faces we pay.
“It was problematic in my eyes when Leary stated as part of the discussion that “the petitioners were told ‘early on’ (i.e. before they ever started) that the petition was invalid. This illustrates an unwillingness on the part of Leary (at minimum) to even consider the question of referendum vs. initiative.
The issue of whether the petitioners’ efforts were in fact an initiative or a referendum is a legal determination. At the very least, the city attorney should have been consulted before the commission waded in. His opinion, or that of an unbiased expert in the field of municipal law, should have been obtained and included in the agenda packet for this commission meeting. It would appear that the majority of the commission did not even make this minimal effort to become informed in the particulars of the matter before them.
Sprinkel and Leary declared they were relying on the city attorney’s advice. How could this be when Ardaman stated that the petition did not “overturn” 3020—15 nor did it “legally” doom the referendum? The most Ardaman could say was that he had consulted with the city manager to determine the “practical” effect of the petition. Knight’s major concern was that no other site could accommodate the combination library and events center. Is this a new sort of legal standard? Where is it codified?
Though I am no expert, it appears that Sprinkel. Leary and Weldon voted incorrectly and without legal justification. The issue before the commission was to evaluate the propriety of the city clerk’s actions in issuing a certificate of insufficiency. Contrary to the assertions of Sprinkel, Leary and Weldon this was not a matter of their emotions, hurt feelings about transparency, or a matter of how badly we need or want a new library. Nor was it a matter of consideration for all the votes cast in favor of the bond referendum. Whether the library and events center could physically be built elsewhere in the city was no basis for deciding whether to uphold the city clerk’s actions.
The dictates of the city charter and the law are controlling. Cooper “got it” and said precisely that. Seidel personally agreed with the clerk but wished to listen to 2000 plus petitioners and put the question of MLK Park to the voters. The other 3 appeared to assign more weight to their own emotions and personal desires than they did to their duties to ALL citizens as commissioners, including even those citizens who happen to back an initiative to block library construction in MLK Park.
The real question here is who directed the City Clerk to rule in favor of those commissioners who want the library moved to Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.
Ninety percent or more of the problems in City government would be prevented altogether or quickly resolved to residents’ satisfaction, if commissioners would pass an ordinance that allows all City employees to speak freely to anyone and everyone about any City matter without fear of retaliation.
Coincidentally, the only one we didn’t hear from on the dais Monday about the petition was the City Clerk.
If commissioners want a parrot to repeat what they want people to hear, they should buy one at the pet store, and let our hard working, dedicated, City employees speak for themselves freely.
Ardaman instructed the commission that they were to “take evidence” and have discussion. Certainly, the city clerk could have been a valuable source of that “evidence”. Did not happen.
The city clerk used the wording that was provided to her by the city attorney as was stated in the Voice article.
The location may not have been on the ballot, but it was advertised in every conceivable location, including this newspaper. The ordinance mentioned demolishing the Civic Center. I was perfectly well informed what I was voting upon.
I hope the project can move ahead now. I am looking forward to a new library!
Not only was it advertised in every conceivable location, the NO people had their own PAC, ads, yard signs, mailers. It’s bad form to sue after you lose an election that gave you every opportunity to present your case.
A judge is going to laugh at their “evidence”.
The petition had nothing to do with the election. The election was about the bond. The petition was about the location which was not named on the ballot. A majority of those Winter Park voters who voted on election day did not vote for the bond either, but that’s beside the point. The anti-petition group is becoming quite transparent as they could rather easily prove that they support the will of the people, simply by agreeing to put the location to a vote of the residents. But of course they won’t do it because they feel they have pulled a fast one on the residents and that another election would result in a landslide “No” vote on the MLK park location. To the victor goes the privilege of writing history, and the tale of the three deeply misguided commissioners is gonna be a real doozy for the kids to read at the library in the years to come.
News flash. The judge most certainly will not ” laugh” at the evidence. Judges don’t do that. They listen respectfully to both sides and then make a decision based on the law and the evidence, not emotion or personal preference. At least that what’s the well-respected judges do. And the judge in this case falls easily into that category.
Judges never laugh? Thank you.
Correct. Judges never laugh at litigants or the evidence. Some judges have been observed smiling at social occasions, depending on how clever or amusing their company is. You’re welcome.
I voted against the library referendum because (1) it suddenly became not simply a library but a big event center with a library buried somewhere within; (2) the all-purpose event/library center would require a parking garage, this after being sold on the fact that the MLK site would eliminate the need for such a structure; (3) it was then switched from the northeast corner of MLK park to the northwest corner and thus farther from the downtown; (4) this new location would mean that the suddenly ancient Rachel Murrah Civic Center would be demolished; (5) the library/event center parking garage would be bunched up against 17-92 with all that corner’s new development and new traffic congestion; (6) it would be a magnet for vagrants much as downtown Orlando’s library has been.
I knew early on what the library task force had in mind for this new state-of-the-art library cum event center because (1) I spend my summers in Winter Park during which time many of the workshops were held, (2) I had the time to attend these meetings, and (3) I was interested.
I believe that is not always the case for Winter Park residents who have much busier lives than I do and who have much more trust in the stewards they have elected to do the right thing by them.
I am disturbed that this $30,000,000.00 bond issue might not be enough to build the new library, particularly since it’s planned as such a grand showcase that will outshine even Lake Mary. The real cost will probably be closer to $50,000,000.00. And lest we forget, won’t Winter Park soon be carrying the real cost of subsidizing SunRail, now that our 7-year opt-in will soon be upon us?
That’s correct. The bond approved is a maximum of $30 million, PLUS interest. On top of that, there are additional operating expenses. Then the plan is to liquidate the City’s emergency savings accounts and sell other City properties to come up with an additional $20 million or so to make the convention center slash library a really hoopty-doo, to really bring in the big traffic jams from the surrounding towns, so that the rest of the Park (or jumbo buildable lot as they see it) can be fully developed. After the commissioners have completely looted the City, they’ll be off like Bonnie and Clyde to their next town to run the same scam there. It’s tougher than it used to be though to run a scam like this because folks in most towns figured out that if they pay their commissioners $20,000 or $30,000 a year, they get a good choice of candidates. But residents here still think paying them only $2,000 a year is a good idea. Forgot you get what you pay for. A sucker is born every day.
If people missed the mailings, yard signs, web sites, ads, FB discussions, meetings, city notices, Sentinel, Park Press, WP-Maitland Observer stories, TV, radio, they must lead a busy life OR an intentionally disconnected life. I am a fan of new library. I had lunch with the other day with several people and we all laughed at the “uninformed” voters. Are these the people who managed to dodge the advertising bombardment and still claim they are “too busy” to know how to vote. We want these folks deciding important issues? It’s laughable.
Objectively I can forgive any voter who does not focus on City of WP business until the need arises. Other matters demand their attention- work, family, illness, travel, volunteer work, hobbies all demand time.
Voters in the voting booth reading a bond referendum (not a location referendum) which is deliberately silent as to the site of the proposed library would have no way to divine the proposed location of the library from the referendum language. The decision to omit the intended location in this instance was a sword with 2 edges.
Well, I disagree. I am not the smartest person but if a referendum is presented to me in the privacy of the voting booth that I have no knowledge of, I’m going to pass. Maybe your experience is different. I did heartily approve of your letter to the editor last Sunday!
A friend suggested I read these posts. Wow.
For the record, the Save our Library PAC did not send out a single mailer. The only form of communication the PAC used was Facebook and Constant Contact. And the pac lost by a slight margin while the pro-library relocation group sent out tens of thousands of dollars in propaganda filled with distortions.
Scores of residents spoke up and against the construction of a library in a park. Many were confused by the misinformation passed out by the PRO library PAC. Even the library President’s letter that was mailed out to all absentee voters claimed the new library/events center would help ‘downtown parking’. A new library in MLK Park offers no advantage to downtown parking on or near Park Avenue. Many felt this was a deliberate attempt to confuse voters.
Speaking for myself only and not any PAC or political group, I am weary of the constant battles residents are subjected to because of Rollins College ambitious growth plan – the most likely suitor behind this initiative. I ask that they show some respect for the residents who live here and work with us instead of steamrolling your business plan
For those who are unaware, Rollins has purchased the empty lot beside the Douglas Grande, the million dollar high end condos close to other million dollar condo complexes. Phil Kean has one going up on Morse Blvd. that is sold out. How do these current and future owners feel about living next to a Rollins dormitory? Why hasn’t their expansion plan communicated to residents?
Why all of this secrecy? Talk about building a wall of distrust, just don’t tell people what you’re up to and let these surprises shock them.
I know this goes against the Mayor’s grain and his cronies, but being honest with constituents will ultimately make it easier for you. I addressed it last week in the meeting. People generally dislike and distrust government so if you want to confirm their fears just keep attacking speakers, blocking information and making untruthful commentary on record (Mayor Leary).
Attacking speakers and then closing with the disingenuous claim that we all want the same thing is malarky. You’re wrong. Residents want to be heard and respected and feel safe that their government is watching out for them, not some carpet bagger or wealthy friend who gives Commissioners special access to their private parties.
Don’t blame voters for a surge of anger when you are unwilling to listen to the people. You reap what you sow
I am not sure why those who were confused did not simply visit the library in person or go to the web site. It was very plain where the new library was being proposed to go and no secret at all. I also read about the location in the paper and here on this web site.
It is very silly to suggest that Rollins is behind all this. I would wager you have not talked to a single one of our librarians about the need for a new library. They are happy to discuss the current poor building and their excitement for what they will be able to provide for the community in a new library.
I do agree that the ‘parking for downtown’ idea was a bit disingenuous however.
Laurel, you have too much common sense and no political aspirations (I hope). Thank you for clarity
Speaking for myself only and not any PAC or political group, I am weary of the constant battles residents are subjected to because of Rollins College ambitious growth plan – the most likely suitor behind this initiative.
Really? C’mon, tell us the truth. You love it.
Let’s make a deal.
For every 10,000 square feet the City builds in MLK Park, the promised statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. will have to be 100 feet tall. So for example, a 50,000 square foot building would require the City to, at the same, time build a 500 foot tall statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the corner of Morse and Dening. That’s roughly the height of the Washington Monument in our nation’s capitol.
If the pro-library group isn’t wiling to make this small concession to get the project started, they’re not being reasonable.
Do you mean ADDITIONAL square feet?
Since there’s already a 16,000 sq. ft. civic center there ‘n all.
If Rollins is expanding at the rumored rate they are snapping up property will anyone be surprised when the old library is now a Rollins building? And just WHO?? Is going to pay all the property tax for this giant bond events center when a tax exempt Rollins owns half the property in city limits?