Boise & Garden City

A citizen vote on Boise’s library and stadium? That’s unconstitutional, city says

A new citizens group’s proposal to let Boise voters decide whether to build a new Downtown library and stadium violates the Idaho Constitution and state law, a lawyer for the city of Boise says.

Boise residents in December drafted initiatives to require voters’ approval on the controversial library and stadium. This week, Interim City Attorney Natalie Mendoza delivered written, public letters reviewing the proposals, as required by law.

The initiatives were drafted by a group of about 40 Boise residents who call themselves Boise Working Together, led by Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise. They would allow Boise to spend up to $250,000 each year on planning for a stadium and $500,000 each year on planning a library, but not allow to spend money to build either unless voters approve.

Boise officials in December approved an $11 million contract with renowned architect Moshe Safdie to design the library, budgeted to cost $85 million. And in the West End, an Atlanta developer has plans for a baseball and soccer stadium on the south side of Main Street between Whitewater Park Boulevard and 27th Street.

Both plans would require Boise taxpayers’ money.

“The goal here is to get a vote,” Gannon said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The City Council can work with us to put it on the ballot without an initiative. ... We should value public input.”

But Mendoza’s letters spell trouble for that effort.

Mendoza made three arguments:

The initiatives are unconstitutional because they don’t seek to enact or prohibit a legislative measure. Mendoza argued that citizen referendums and initiatives can be used to address legislative issues but not matters that are administrative in nature. Because the city in its budget committed to funding a new downtown library, the matter should be seen as administrative, and would be unconstitutional.

The initiatives are pre-empted by state law on municipal finance, because initiatives cannot amend municipal budgeting.

The initiatives could limit future City Councils on funding the projects. “As a general principle, one legislative body cannot tie the hands of future legislative bodies,” she wrote.

The library proposal also may cause the city to breach or interfere with contracts the city has made, Mendoza wrote.

Boise Working Together has 15 working days to make changes to the referendum and file a revised petition with the city clerk’s office. Petitioners then would need to gather signatures equaling 20 percent of the votes cast in the last city election to put the referendums before voters.

Gannon said his group does not want a court battle. “I’m interested in working together and avoiding lawsuits,” Gannon said.

He said that he has been disappointed by the city’s lack of public engagement during the process.

Mike Journee, spokesman for Mayor Dave Bieter, previously told the Statesman, “Both of these projects have had and will continue to have extensive public comment and review if and when they move forward. We believe that those projects are well within bounds of those projects [that elected officials can handle].”

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Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.
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