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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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4/14/2010 9:59:00 PM
Prescott City Charter changes could go to voters in November

Cindy Barks
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - In the wake of the problem-laden 2009 city election, a number of proposed changes could go to voters in November to try to clear up some of the trouble areas.

At their voting session on Tuesday, Prescott City Council members agreed that a committee of three council members should evaluate the proposed changes that city staff members have suggested.

Depending on whether the council ultimately opts to put the issues on the ballot, voters could be deciding issues as:

• Whether the city clerk should have the authority to check more thoroughly the signatures that candidates submit on their nominating petitions.

Councilwoman Tammy Linn pointed out that such a change would allow the city clerk to cross off signatures that are "blatantly" invalid, such as those from signers who list an address outside city limits.

In the 2009 city council election, Linn took the matter to court, when she challenged the nominating petitions of two of her fellow candidates, maintaining that the petitions fell short of the required number of signatures from Prescott registered voters.

A Superior Court judge agreed and ultimately removed the names of council candidate Shannon Miller and mayor candidate Paul Armenta from the ballot for the September 2009 primary.

The situation raised the question of whether the city should take more responsibility for verifying the nominating petitions.

• How to handle the withdrawal of a candidate from the race after the primary results are in.

That issue also ended up in the courtroom this past fall, when then-incumbent Bob Bell withdrew from the council race after the September primary.

The city later continued with the printing of the November general-election ballots, listing Bell's name. That prompted Paul Katan, the candidate with the next-highest number of votes in the primary, to file a lawsuit, maintaining that the city should have moved him up and onto the November general-election ballot.

(Prescott council candidates who receive at least 50 percent of the votes in the primary win a seat outright. For the remaining positions, the city conducts a run-off in the general election, pitting the top vote-getters - two for each unfilled seat - against one another.)

While a Superior Court judge initially agreed with Katan and halted the city's mail-in election, the Arizona Court of Appeals later weighed in and agreed that the city was correct in keeping Bell's name on the ballot and not replacing it with Katan's.

• The percentage of signatures necessary to get an initiative issue on the city ballot.

The question arose during the spring/summer of 2009, when the city initially told the Taxpayer Protection Initiative group that it needed to submit signatures from at least 15 percent of the total voter turnout in the last City Council vote in order to get its issue on the September primary ballot.

But later, City Attorney Gary Kidd maintained that the initiative actually would require signatures from at least 25 percent of the last council vote total. The difference amounted to almost 1,400 signatures.

Officials said at the time that the discrepancy stemmed from a conflict between what the Arizona Constitution requires and what the state statute calls for.

Although the Taxpayer Protection Initiative ultimately got onto the ballot under the 15-percent rule, some council support existed for adhering to the 25-percent requirement.

City Clerk Elizabeth Burke urged the council this week to be as specific as possible, if it does opt to put the matter on this fall's ballot.

"I would prefer that you spell it out, just so I'm covered, because (the 25-percent requirement) is contrary to what I've been doing for 20 years," Burke said, noting that most other communities in the state use the 15-percent standard for initiatives.

• A variety of other issues, involving the bids for annual audits, sale of personal property, use of Willow and Watson lakes for water supply, and other "housekeeping" issues on definitions and clarifications.

The three-member review committee will include Linn and councilmen John Hanna and Jim Lamerson.

In order to get the city charter changes on the Nov. 2 general-election ballot, the full council must decide the matter by about mid-June.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, April 17, 2010
Article comment by: No Trust

If this city council wants voter approval for anything, I reckon it absolutely to be against the best interests of the citizens and taxpayers. I do not trust these people in any way whatsoever and vow to cast my vote against them every time I get the chance.

Posted: Thursday, April 15, 2010
Article comment by: George Seaman

In regards to the percentage of required signatures for a Charter Amendment. Other than obvious constitutional questions that ought to apply equally to the council as well as the citizens, it seems incredibly arrogant to think that the City can change its charter in this regard when the issue is a state constitutional one. The place for clarity on this issue is the State Supreme Court, they are the ONLY ones able to clarify this issue. Any charter amendment that the council presents in this regard should be immediately challenged in court! Better to just spend the money bringing this issue to court, let them decide, then it's over.

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