Boise & Garden City

The fate of the library is likely in your hands, Boiseans. Here’s what is on the table

Ada County clerk to Boise City Council: You can’t change these ordinances

Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane tells the Boise City Council on June 18 that they cannot revise citizen-initiative ordinances on a proposed new main library and a stadium before adopting them and still keep them from going before voters in November.
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Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane tells the Boise City Council on June 18 that they cannot revise citizen-initiative ordinances on a proposed new main library and a stadium before adopting them and still keep them from going before voters in November.

Boiseans may vote twice on the proposed new main library in November’s city election: once on a citizens group’s ballot initiative, and once on a competing ordinance proposed by a member of City Council.

The ballot initiative by Boise Working Together would enact an ordinance to require an election on any library project costing more than $25 million in public funds. The City Council could have averted the ballot initiative by adopting the ordinance first, but council members consider it flawed, so they refused.

But council members didn’t want to blow off the Boise voters, some 5,000 of them, who signed Boise Working Together’s petition to let residents vote on the $85 million library. So they sought an alternative.

Enter Elaine Clegg. The longtime City Council member, now the council’s president pro tem, brought forward an ordinance of her own. It calls for a public hearing on any capital project costing $25 million or more in general funds — the same amount specified in Boise Working Together’s library ordinance. At that public hearing, the council would decide whether to put an issue to an advisory election.

The City Council approved Clegg’s ordinance Tuesday. That means that the council will now hold a public hearing on the proposed library. After that hearing, the council will decide whether to put the library measure on the same November ballot where Boise Working Together’s ordinance will appear.

The hearing has not been scheduled but is anticipated to be in late August.

If the council votes to put the library on the ballot, the voters’ decision will be nonbinding, since the election is advisory. The Boise Working Together ordinance, however, will become city law if it passes, because the state Constitution grants voters authority to make municipal law themselves that way.

Boise Working Together is trying to figure out what Clegg’s ordinance means for its own ordinance.

“This new ordinance adds confusion to the library project,” spokesman Dave Kangas said. “I’m not sure how this is all going to play out.”

Clegg said Boise Working Together’s ordinance violates the state constitution by infringing on the council’s budgetary and administrative authority — an argument her fellow councilors agreed with.

“There are pretty clear court cases that show that’s not allowed by ordinance or by vote,” Clegg said Thursday. “Even if we had adopted that ordinance, it seems likely to me that there would immediately be a challenge to (its) constitutionality.”

Brian Ertz, legal counsel for Boise Working Together, said concerns about constitutionality are a political scare tactic.

“The ordinances will survive any potential legal challenge,” Ertz told the Statesman in June. “The language is sound.”

If voters do face both measures, there are four possible options for the future of the library:

1. Both measures pass. Clegg said that would resolve the issue because, by passing the city’s ordinance at the same time they pass Boise Working Together’s, voters would already have had their election on the library that Boise Working Together’s ordinance calls for.

Kangas told the Idaho Statesman that he hadn’t thought about it that way and wasn’t sure if the advisory vote would satisfy the initiative.

2. Clegg’s measure passes and Boise Working Together’s fails. That would likely settle the issue and propel the library forward.

3. Voters reject both measures. This could put the library in jeopardy. But Adam Park, director of community engagement for the city, said it “may be premature” to say what would happen with the library, because the city has not yet determined the language to be put before voters in November.

4. Clegg’s measure fails and Boise Working Together’s passes. This is tricky. The result could depend on whether the Clegg ordinance’s advisory election was considered to be what the Boise Working Together initiative called for, as she believes it would be, and what the language of the advisory vote was.

This outcome may not kill the library project, but it would likely mean big changes.

Confused? You’re not alone. The fate of the library (and the votes on it) depends in no small part on what is decided after the yet-unscheduled public hearing in August.

“When they have the public hearing on the library, we’ll be there. Most definitely,” Kangas said. “We’ll have a call to arms. We haven’t yet discussed it in that light because they haven’t called anything. But we’ll be there.”

The new library would be built on the site of the current main library on Capitol Boulevard at River Street. The new library has drawn opposition largely over its cost and the plan to relocate The Cabin, a historic log building just south of the existing library, to make room for the larger new building. The cost of architect Moshe Safdie’s design was estimated by a consultant at $104 million, though Mayor David Bieter has pledged to hold the budget to $85 million, in part by delaying a planned events center.

Boise Working Together also introduced a second initiative, that one focused on the proposed $50 million sports stadium. Similar to the library initiative, it would require a vote on any proposed stadium costing more than $5 million in public or private money.

No formal proposal has yet been presented for the stadium, however, so while the initiative will be on the ballot in November, the stadium is not yet ripe for a citywide election.

Business Editor David Staats contributed.

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.