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Boise library, stadium petitions will be on November ballot. A special election could be, too

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After nearly five hours of testimony, presentations and questions, there’s some clarity around what happens next for the future of Boise’s library project – and a possible stadium down the road too.

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The Boise City Council voted unanimously on three moves:

  • To effectively put the Boise Working Together petition for a Boise stadium project on the November ballot.
  • To also effectively put the BWT petition for a Boise library project on the November ballot.
  • Consider a new city ordinance requiring public hearings for large capital expenditures, and opening up an avenue for special elections on these types of projects.

The BWT petitions set up a “vote for a vote.” As we’ve explained before, the petitions will ask voters of they want to vote on future library or stadium projects.

The council found itself in a tricky situation. Each member expressed a desire to honor the spirit of the more than 7,000 people who signed the petitions. But several expressed concern about the petition language, and had sharp questions about the constitutionality of the language.

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The council had the option to directly adopt the petitions into city law instead of letting them go to the ballot. Dozens testified – mostly discussing the library project. Library supporters and those with concerns about the project and the process testified in roughly even numbers throughout the evening, with applause from both sides on points each side felt were particularly strong.

A library supporter wearing a “!” t-shirt, echoing the library’s trademark punctuation. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

“I don’t know that the level of discourse has ever been higher,” mayor Dave Bieter said at the conclusion of public testimony.

[Also from Tuesday: Boise mulls plan to rearrange budgets to avoid “legal action” on Boise library]

A possible solution

“I cannot vote for an ordinance I believe to be unconstitutional, council member Elaine Clegg said. “Asking me to break my oath of office is something I cannot do. That’s something I take as seriously as anything I’ve ever done.”

Clegg put forth a proposed change to city code that requires a public hearing on any capital project of more than $25 million. The Boise library project could cost $85 million and would qualify under her proposal. The stadium project is still not in the formal proposal stage and it is unclear how it would jibe with the proposed new law.

Clegg’s ordinance would also put forth a mechanism that would allow the city to put any large capital project to a public vote through a special election.

To become law, it will go through the mandated three readings, which could start in July.

“I think that Elanie’s proposal gets to what I think a lot of people asked us – to ensure there is a vote on the library,” council president Lauren McLean said. “I heard people opposed to the library wanting a vote, and people in favor of the library wanting a vote.”

After extensive public testimony, McLean said she thinks the public is telling the council it wants better engagement on the project.

“I would like to see Elaine’s ordinance sussed out further to be put forward for us to put forward the actual library question on the ballot this fall,” McLean said.

“Let’s work together to draft some language and get it done so there could be a vote on the library and a vote on the stadium if a proposal comes forward for that one as well,” council member TJ Thomson said.

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Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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