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Initiative ‘By the People’? Prop. 1 is nothing of the sort | Guest Column
By Bill Appel
Special to the Journal
Greater control by the people over county government is not what is really going on here.
This is not a “people’s movement.” This effort is largely driven by ex-politicians and ex-Freeholders and their immediate supporters to enable the breakup of the county into small districts.
The proposition before us has only one impact on the charter, and therefore that impact has to be its sole purpose: to permit redistricting by initiative petition. Our current charter permits redistricting only by way of proposition submitted to the voters by a Charter Review Commission. It is only redistricting that is at issue.
Why does the Charter deny us the right to redistrict by public initiative? The answer is clear from a simple comparison of the first step in each procedure:
Charter Review Commission: Freely elected representatives from throughout the county meet in open public session, invite comment and criticism, and after debate considering the effectiveness of county government, propose either a single county voting district (as the recent Charter Review Commission did) or carefully designs separate voting districts after considering the needs and natures of interest groups and communities, and in any event legal review by the county prosecutor
Public Initiative: A public initiative is not really public. It is privately framed by an individual or small group with its own agenda, whatever it is. There is no initial public disclosure of its initiators or backers. Although in this case nominally submitted by the previous council, the current proposition is a good example of initiation by this process because two sets of proposals were first submitted to the council by a private group using a computer whose meta-data reveals its owner as a private individual. One such submission to the council identified the five proposed districts without any opportunity to the entire county, every voter in which would be impacted.
Is this “greater control by the people over county government.” Well, yes it is, if you mean control by some people. Those unelected few who draft an initiative petition would control the choice presented to the voters simply by elimination of public discussion of alternatives.
Don’t be misled into thinking that Charter Review Commissions are too few and too far in the future. Contrary to the Pro Statement in the Voter’s Pamphlet, that Charter Review Commissions can only be held every 10 years, the next one is only seven years away, and thereafter can be called as often as every other year. The writers of the Pro Statement did not read Section 9.20 of the charter carefully. There has been no public correction.
[Section 9.20 - Election Procedures and Period of Office
(1) The County Council shall cause an election of a CRC in 2020 and at least every ten (10) years thereafter provided that the CRC election is held in an even numbered year.
The proposition before us is designed solely to enable privately planned propositions to be presented to you on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Small groups can propose gerrymandering leading to an annual war of voting district readjustment. This is not democracy, and it impairs the fair apportionment of freedom.
To preserve your freedom against private invasion and retain your right to vote county-wide, reject Proposition 1.
— Editor’s note: Waldon Island resident William Appel was a member of the former Charter Review Commission, which advocated a return to a 3-person council, approved by voters in 2012.