Eau Claire's city attorney responds to referendum petition - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Eau Claire's city attorney responds to referendum petition

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - An Eau Claire citizen group says it could start collecting signatures in support of a Confluence Project referendum on Thursday.

The group released a copy of its petition on Wednesday.  The petition calls for the city to hold a binding referendum on the project before construction begins.  Last month, the Eau Claire City Council approved a $5 million pledge, with conditions, for the project.  Steve Nick, the city attorney, said he believes the council's decision would likely trump a referendum.

The citizen group says it went to an attorney who specializes in municipal law to create a petition that undercuts Nick's argument and makes the referendum binding.  The group's spokesman, Mike Bollinger, says they cannot undo funding, but they can undo construction that has not started yet.

The group will have to collect 3,600 signatures by the end of the year to have the referendum on the April ballot.  The entire proposed referendum is 167 words.  It's listed below in its entirety.

Nick says the referendum, as it's proposed, is unlawful.  He gave a number of examples, including the reference to historic buildings.  Nick says there are other historic properties outside of the Confluence Project.  He said the referendum could impact those. 

He said the underlying concern is there's a legal process for city code and state law for when and how the owner of an historic property can demolish it.  He said the proposed referendum would change a city provision and state law, but does not specifically explain what codes or procedures would no longer apply.  

He also said the issue of historic preservation is a statewide concern, so the referendum -- which would establish a new ordinance -- may be illegal if it seeks to change state law.

Nick also said the entire topic of the Confluence Project is not necessarily off limits to a referendum, but said when you want to create a specific ordinance, which this does, he said it has to be lawful.  Nick says, in his opinion, this is not.

 

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Eau Claire Citizen's Referendum Committee (Press Release) –

A CHARTER ORDINANCE ENACTED PURSUANT TO THE PROVISIONS OF S. 66.0101, WISCONSIN STATUTES, TO REQUIRE THAT CERTAIN BUILDING PROJECTS CONSTRUCTED WITH FUNDS OF THE CITY OR A CITY ENTITY SHALL BE SUBMITTED TO REFERENDUM PRIOR TO CONSTRUCTION.

Prior to the start of any physical construction of any municipally financed (in whole or in part) project which includes a building planned for dramatic, musical, or athletic performances, requiring a capital expenditure by the City, or by any entity created by the City, of one million dollars or more, or which project will include the destruction of a building on the National Register of Historic Places, or which is designated a landmark pursuant to Ordinance 2.65.010 - 2.65.110, the City Council shall submit to the electorate a binding referendum for approval of the project. Failure of the binding referendum shall preclude the City or City entity from proceeding with the project. The wording of any referendum shall provide the specific purpose, location and cost of the project and an estimate of operating costs which will be provided by the City or a City entity. Nothing in this provision shall be construed to preclude the City from exercising its role in the planning or design of such publicly financed projects.

This ordinance shall be in full force and effect upon passage and publication as provided by law.

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