Saturday, June 19, 2010

Citizens Initiative

A friend asked me the other day whether citizens of Key West have the right to propose that City government do, or not do, certain things, and to call for a city-wide vote on their proposals.

The simple answer to that question is "Yes".  It's called an initiative petition and can be approved by voters in a process called a referendum.  The process can go so far as to nullify any previous decision by the City Commission.  An initiative petition doesn't have to go to referendum.

For example, the City Commission has already voted to approve a 99 year lease to the Florida Keys Assisted Care Coalition for construction of an Assisted Living Center on the Truman Waterfront.

The Commission is also considering approval of a referendum for this November that will ask voters to approve the sale of a piece of property that's leased to the Pier House hotel.

Each of these actions had to be put to voters for approval.  Each was itself the result of an action taken in 1998 to amend to the City charter.  Although I wan't here then, I think I remember reading that the amendment came about as a result of an initiative petition.

Other changes to the charter carried out in this way are the formation of a Citizens Review Board to examine allegations made concerning wrong behavior by Key West police, and a limitation on the height of buildings in the City.

It's likely, too, that the Commission will soon be asked to agree to provide city services to a proposed development on Wisteria Island, on Monroe County governed, privately-owned land in Key West Harbor.  That's a decision that probably doesn't require voter approval.  If a group of citizens wanted to, however, they could raise a petition to prevent, or even reverse a vote by the Commission to do anything at all about that request, either approve it or deny it.

Any five qualified voters can begin an initiative petition and/or a referendum petition.  They then have a period of time to obtain signatures from 10% of the voters qualified to vote at the last regular election (20% if calling for a special election).  For Key West, that would be a little more than 1,500 (3,000) signatures.  It wouldn't be easy, but it wouldn't be impossible either, with a well-organized campaign.

More information about this process can be found here and here.

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