PORT ANGELES — Forget about Port Angeles voters petitioning to reduce the city limits or having the authority to assist with the development of low-income housing.
Forget about voters having the authority to establish youth agencies, buy or build multipurpose community centers, or regulate health and safety.
Port Angeles residents would be unable to manage these and other aspects of municipal life with initiative and referendum powers if they approve Proposition 1, an initiative on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.
The City Council could still enact the measures, listed as potential initiatives and referendums in a guide published by the nonpartisan Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Municipal Guide.
But Proposition 1, put up for a vote by the anti-fluoridation group Our Water, Our Choice!, would do something that has not happened to any municipality in Washington state: turn Port Angeles from code city with initiative and referendum powers to a second-class city without that latitude.
According to the ballot measure, the change in government would occur so voters can elect a new City Council, including four council members who are in the same election as Proposition 1.
Others have said that the law isn’t clear that an election would follow a yes vote.
Five of the state’s 285 cities are second-class cities, with more than 100 since the 1960s turning from second-class to code status, according to the MRSC.
As a second-class city, any laws enacted by the Port Angeles City Council would have to be made under specific state legislative authority, not under the more general home-rule powers that gives code cities wider latitude to pass their own laws.
“I don’t see that it would hurt anything,” Edna Willadsen, an Our Water, Our Choice! organizer and a Proposition 1 proponent, said Friday.
The anti-fluoridation group spearheaded the ballot proposition in response to the action of a pro-fluoridation majority on the City Council.
Willadsen said she is against the city having home-rule powers and believes the state Legislature should provide a check on an unresponsive City Council.
“At some point, they have to watch their indebtedness,” Willadsen said.
“At some point, there has to be someone looking at it and managing it.
“Some of these laws and things are published, and they don’t tell anybody.”
City Attorney Bill Bloor said that if the second-class-city measure is approved, the city would still have a water utility and electric utility.
But if the Port Angeles went to second-class status, like it was before 1971, making government more efficient would be more difficult, Bloor said.
“It turns everything on its head,” he said.
“Every change or improvement or efficiency that is proposed would have to be analyzed legally in the opposite direction, with the rule of thumb being we can’t do that unless the state Legislature has specifically granted that.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about utilities or dog catcher or anything else.”
Bloor said he did not know what specific local laws might change that exist under the city’s code status if the proposition is approved.
The 53 specific powers of second-class cities under state law are listed at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-2ndClass.
The powers of code cities, which are not listed and are generally stated under state law, are at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-CodeCity1.
MRSC staff attorney Jim Doherty said Friday that second-class and code cities have many powers in common.
Changing to second-class-city status would not have an impact on citizens’ ability to affect the city debt, he added.
“Most of the debt [issues] are standard for all the cities,” Doherty said.
Many municipal powers are common to both code and second-class cities.
Topics that are and are not subject to initiative and referendum powers are outlined by the MRSC at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-CityGuide.
But a second-class city might want to push smaller projects that would be held up while their conformity with state law is checked out.
An example might be a multi-story parking garage, he said.
“There are all sorts of little things that maybe a city would want to do that seem to make sense if the situation warranted it, but there would have to be specific authority from the Legislature,” he said.
Mayor Patrick Downie said Friday that if the measure is approved Nov. 7, planning out what’s next would likely be part of a robust discussion at the council’s next regular meeting after that on Nov. 21.
Downie said he would want all four new council members who will be elected Nov. 7 to attend and participate in the Nov. 21 meeting, as the vote will have a greater effect on them than the four council members they will be replacing.
All the candidates running for council positions have said they oppose the change to second-class government, as have all the current council members.
“This change in governance comes with some terrible outcomes as far as I am concerned,” Downie said, predicting a drop in the city’s credit rating.
“I would suspect that at the meeting, what will probably be one of the discussion points is, what do we do next and what recourse do we have to counteract it.”
Downie said he does not expect voters to approve the measure, but if they do, there will be “strong and vociferous discussion at that meeting.”
Our Water, Our Choice! lawyer Gerald Steel of Olympia has predicted an election for a new City Council would occur by April if the measure passes.
Bloor, the Port Angeles city attorney, said he expects someone to seek a summary judgment, which would be issued by a Superior Court judge, to define what happens next.
Early on, Bloor raised legal concerns about a ballot measure that simply throws out a sitting City Council to elect a new one.
“I would imagine that some entity, somebody, would have ground to question if the proposition, as written, were passed, what happens next,” he said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].