Friday, Jan. 14, 2011 | 8:19 p.m.
The Boulder City Council this week approved four ballot questions for the next municipal election and rejected three others in a meeting that sparked heated debate over how ballot initiatives are handled.
A question to revise the city’s charter to reduce the minimum residency requirement for candidates running for City Council passed unanimously. The requirement would be reduced from two years, set when the charter was established in 1960, to 30 days, the minimum required by state law.
By the end of Tuesday's meeting, a majority of the City Council had also approved the following ballot questions asking for:
• $350,000 from the city’s Capital Improvement Fund to purchase new ambulances for the fire department;
• $250,000 from the Capital Improvement Fund to purchase police vehicles;
• Permission to refinance the city’s debt of about $13.6 million, which it owes for a third water line installed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
A majority of the council voted against placing the following questions on the ballot asking that:
• The city attorney be required to review all citizen-submitted ballot questions for legality, as proposed by Councilman Travis Chandler;
• 50 percent of lease revenues from renewable energy projects be placed in the Capital Improvement Fund, as proposed by Chandler;
• The city be divided into four wards when electing City Council members, as proposed by Councilwoman Linda Strickland.
In between the votes, which took almost two hours, city officials and the public often referred to ballot questions from November’s election. The city has sued the petitioners of two ballot initiatives that passed as a means of challenging their legality, costing the citizens and the city thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Hearings have been set for Jan. 21 and 22 to dismiss both lawsuits, as requested by the residents’ legal counsel, Strickland and her husband, Tracy Strickland.
One calls for a special election if the city plans to go into debt for $1 million or more, and the other places a 12-year term limit for citizens appointed to city committees and commissions.
At the council meeting, Chandler and City Attorney Dave Olsen sparred over Chandler’s proposal to have the city attorney review questions before they are included on the ballot. Both Chandler and the Stricklands have criticized Olsen for not offering his opinion before questions are approved, which they argue would have prevented the need for lawsuits after they passed.
A number of citizens have also come forward at council meetings since the lawsuits were filed in November, condemning Olsen for suing the city’s own residents while refusing to give his perspective beforehand.
Olsen has countered that he is appointed by the City Council, making the city his client, and it would be unethical to review the questions. At one point Tuesday night, the council chambers fell silent as Olsen challenged Chandler to find a specific passage in the city charter that obligated him to review ballot questions.
Later, Councilman Cam Walker repeated his assertion that the 12-year term limit was “punitive in nature” and intended to oust certain commission members who already have served for 12 years.
Chandler denied that the petition was aimed at any individuals, and the council voted to wait until the lawsuit is settled before deciding if the ordinance should be applied moving forward or retroactively.
Lastly, during the public-comment period, Steve Stubbs, a local attorney, questioned Linda Strickland’s ethics in defending the ballot question petitioners while serving on the City Council.
Strickland has previously told the Sun she consulted Nevada’s professional code of ethics before joining her husband, who the citizens initially retained, on the case.
The council also authorized advertising for members to sit on the ballot question committee, which drafts arguments for and against each question to be placed on the ballot.
Boulder City’s general election is scheduled for June 7. The city council next meets Jan. 25.