Billy McCoy to turn in petitions against fire station, city spending

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, July 29, 2014

JANESVILLE—Resident Billy McCoy says he has more than enough signatures on a pair of petitions he's circulated to try to halt the planned Milton Avenue fire station and force referendums for big-ticket city projects.

McCoy said Tuesday he plans to submit the petitions to the city clerk's office sometime later this week after he and a team of six who helped circulate petitions make a final count of signatures.

Submitted petitions will light the fuse on a campaign by McCoy to blow holes in the city's plans for a controversial, $9 million fire station that was approved by the city council last fall.

One petition demands the city council vote to delay construction of the new fire station until voters decide through referendum whether to build it at the proposed location near the current Fire Station No. 1 location along Milton Avenue.

The petition also includes a clause that would force a referendum if the council takes no action.

McCoy's other petition seeks to force the council to establish a charter city ordinance that would require a referendum to approve any city project with a price tag of more than $2 million.

The petition includes a clause that would push it to referendum if the council fails to act on it.

McCoy has said he hopes to have one or both petitions placed on the November ballot.

Whether McCoy's two petitions are firecrackers or duds will hinge in part on whether the city validates them.

That call will come from the city clerk's office, which by law must either validate or invalidate the petitions within 15 days of submission, City Clerk Jean Wulf said Tuesday.

If the petitions are validated, the council will then have 30 days to decide how—or whether—to act on them.

The city first must determine whether the petitions have enough valid signatures, Wulf said.

By law, McCoy needs 3,156 signatures—15 percent of local votes cast in the last gubernatorial election—for both petitions to be valid under statutes as direct legislation. McCoy says he's collected more than that; he estimates he could have upwards of 3,500 signatures.

He's said he and others have been going door-to-door and setting up drives at local events to get signatures. 

“I've been going for the golden apple, for whatever I can get,” McCoy said.

The stickier question, Wulf said, is whether the city will consider the petitions lawful under state statute.

That determination must be made within the city's 15-day timeframe for validating the petitions.

Wulf said she'll be working with City Attorney Wald Klimczyk and others in the city attorney's office on a legal crosscheck of the petitions.

The Gazette could not immediately reach Klimczyk or Assistant City Attorney Tim Wellnitz for comment. 

Klimczyk earlier said McCoy's petition to halt the fire station was invalid because it attempts to use direct legislation to roll back a city council decision, something Klimczyk said is “improper” and not specifically allowed under state statutes.

At the very least, McCoy said, he hopes the city council will view both petitions as advisory and will act on one or both.

“The integrity of each signature should tell the people who run this city, 'Look, we do not like what you did or how you did this. We want it to stop, and you'd better start listening,'” McCoy said.

If the city throws out the petitions or the council ultimately ignores them?

“I guess we'll have to go out and start getting money together to hire an attorney and sue them. I don't want to see it go that far. I hope they just listen and not throw up a stink,” McCoy said.

City Council President DuWayne Severson was guarded in an interview Tuesday, saying he hadn't heard about McCoy's plans to turn in the petitions.

He said he's withholding comment on both petitions until after he's had a chance to speak with city officials.

“If they are valid, we'll have to work with the city attorney to see to what extent we need to react to the signatures and to what extent we don't,” he said.

Severson said people should be mindful that the council represents all residents in Janesville, not just a group of petition signers.

“There's more than 60,000 people in the city, and many more people (than just petition signers) voted for city council members in the last two years,” he said.

Meanwhile, the city continues to close on houses along Milton Avenue in the footprint of the planned fire station.

As of Monday, the city had closed on seven of 12 homes slated for demolition at the future fire station site, and it could close on two more homes by the end of this week, City Manager Mark Freitag said.

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