Direct legislation could end up on November ballot

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Marcia Nelesen
Thursday, May 29, 2014

JANESVILLE--If a petition drive is successful, a public referendum on the new fire station could be on the November ballot.

Resident Billy McCoy on Tuesday told Janesville council members he would begin distributing petitions for direct legislation in June.

The petition will ask the council to rescind its decision to spend $9 million on a new central fire station.

If the council does not rescind its decision, the petition would require the city to put a binding referendum question on the next general election ballot, asking voters to support or reject the council's decision on the fire station.

Meanwhile, the city will continue moving forward with its plans to build the station, City Manger Mark Freitag said Wednesday.

McCoy said he is beginning the petition drive because residents are fed up with city spending. He said people he has talked to are angry that a discussion about the fire station took place in closed session last year.

McCoy must get signatures representing at least 15 percent of Janesville residents who voted for governor in the last general election, or 3,165 signatures.

If McCoy gathers enough signatures, he must present them to the city clerk so she can verify the signatures. She has 15 days to do that.

Then, the council has 30 days to make its decision.

McCoy said Tuesday he hoped to work fast enough to get the referendum on the August primary ballot, but that doesn't appear possible under state law.

McCoy said he has a “handful” of residents who are helping him distribute  petitions.

Freitag said he is working with the city attorney to learn more about the legal process of direct petitions and referendums.

“Until I get something that tells me to change directions, I'm going to continue to move forward,” Freitag said.

City staff, for example, will soon make offers to residents of 12 homes that will be demolished to make way for the new, expanded station, which would be built on the site of the existing main station on Milton Avenue.

Council President DuWayne Severson also said the city would continue with its plans.

“If Mr. McCoy or other residents bring forward a petition, that's their right,” Severson said. “We will consider it.”

Severson said the council has not discussed the petition drive at this point.

“If folks have those concerns, we want to honor that. We have to follow the course.”

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