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A vote on a stadium? County clerk hadn’t been contacted; initiative process continues

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter surprised city council members at a public meeting Tuesday night. He said the city may not be able to hold an advisory vote in odd-numbered years.

Council members said they planned to discuss putting city funding for a potential Boise Sports Park to such a vote, but did not move forward after the mayor’s preamble.

“In further discussions with the county, advisory votes are limited to even-numbered years,” Bieter said. “And we are obviously not in one. While we’ll look into it further, at least for tonight’s discussion that does not appear that is an option available to us.”

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Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said the news out of Tuesday’s meeting took him by surprise.

“I have not spoken at anyone from the mayor’s office or the city about the proposed advisory vote,” McGrane said.

This morning, after Tuesday night’s meeting, McGrane said Bieter’s chief of staff Jade Riley left a message. He said the two have been playing phone tag throughout the day.

The mayor said staff held discussions with county commisioners, but also with McGrane’s office.

“And in further discussions with the county clerk, it’s kind of an anomaly… that cities may not (hold such votes)… and I’ll say may because we are going to look into it more,” Bieter said.

City of Boise Communications Director Mike Journee said the fast-moving nature of the information last night led to the confusion.

“That was a mistake on Jade’s part,” Journee said. “He had assumed legal had talked to them, but that did not happen. It did happen today.”

Journee said the information on the advisory vote came in very late.

“We got this information not long before the meeting,” he said. “The mayor felt like the council members needed to know that before we had that discussion because of the high expectations some members of the community members have around a vote.”

Advisory vote in odd-numbered years?

McGrane did say that the thrust of the mayor’s argument may, in fact, be true. He cautioned “more investigation would be warranted.”

He points to Idaho State Code, which gives county commissioners the “authority to place a question on the ballot pertaining to any issue before the citizens of a county during a primary or general election.”

Because primary and general elections are only held in even-numbered years, it appears state law precludes an advisory vote called for by county commissioners in odd-numbered years like 2019.

But, the law makes no mention municipalities like the City of Boise. McGrane said that authority could lie elsewhere.

“I don’t profess to know city code, it may exist and I’m not aware of it.”

Journee also said “that’s the big question going forward,” and staff is looking into that now.

A 2017 election manual from the Idaho Secretary of State indicates such an advisory vote may be allowed.

“City bond, levy, liquor by the drink, advisory ballot and other elections may be held in May or November in any year,” with the emphasis being that of the SOS.

City council president Lauren McLean asked city staff to provide more information on the apparent inability to hold a vote.

“I would like to further understand why we can’t put that on an advisory ballot,” McLean said Tuesday. “Rather than just resigning ourselves tonight to just saying ‘we can’t have it on the ballot,’ I’d like to see documentation of that and be able to share that with the public.”

Initiative process continues

A separate but similar process to put the stadium and library projects to a public vote by way of citizen initiative is not impacted by the question over state law, according to both Bieter and McGrane. Organizers tell BoiseDev that regardless of city action on an advisory vote, that process continues. McGrane said if such initiatives came forward successfully, state law says voters would get their say during the “next available election.”

Idaho has elections set for May 21st and November 5th this year.

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