Janesville50.1°

Evansville council denies referenda ordinance

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GINA R. HEINE
January 16, 2008
— A controversial ordinance that would have pushed public works projects of $5 million or more to referendum died before the council could vote Tuesday night.

After a public hearing in which four residents spoke, Alderman Fred Juergens moved that the council approve the ordinance, but the motion died for lack of a second.


Before that, a motion by Juergens to table the discussion also failed.


Council President Mason Braunschweig, who sponsored the ordinance with Juergens, said after the public hearing he would not vote for it and urged the council to reject it.


As he interpreted the ordinance and state law, such referendums would be advisory anyway, said Braunschweig, who is an attorney.


He and other council members said residents who do not think the council is spending taxpayer money wisely could speak at the start of every city meeting and cast their votes at elections.


Juergens said he supported the ordinance, but he wasn’t ready to vote with the number set at $5 million.


Juergens said he knows how easy it is for a citizen to get a referendum on the ballot. Before he joined council, Juergens and a citizen group gathered signatures to get a resolution regarding the Iraq war on the city’s spring 2006 election ballot.


“It took approximately 200 signatures to bypass the will of the council and then to require the referendum to be held. To my knowledge, there’s nothing in the statutes which limits what that referendum may be, in fact, about,” he said. “It is of great concern to me that a small number of citizens could create a referendum which would hamstring us if they choose to do so.”


Council members stressed that the proposed ordinance and the dredging of Lake Leota should not be tied.


“It wasn’t done because of the lake,” Braunschweig said. “I hope we can get that out of our heads.”


The council also discussed including a clause to increase the $5 million cap as the cost of living increased.


No resident spoke in support of the ordinance as it was drafted:


-- Jim Brooks said he’s “not a big fan” of mandatory referendums.


“I think it tends to tie any governing body’s hands, whether it’s a school board or city council,” he said. “You people are elected to lead and to govern, and I don’t think that a mandatory referendum limit is necessary.”


-- Wayne Steinlein said residents elected the council to represent them.


“I can tell you right now none of my alder people have come over and asked me anything about this. What kind of representative is that of me?” he said.


He cited possible future projects—library expansion, lake dredging, new fire department, school expansion—and wondered how much money would come from taxpayers.


-- Dick Woulfe said setting the ordinance at $5 million would effectively bypass the public. The number should be set at $1 million, he said. “Otherwise, let’s just forget it.”


-- Given the city’s taxes, Chris Roberts said he was surprised the council would consider requiring a referendum only when a project hits $5 million.


“It surprises me that you are willing to go that high without some input from the community and taxpayers as a whole,” he said. “To me, $5 million seems a little high.”



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