Ballot ban on artificial turf dries up

Looks like voters won’t be deciding on whether or not to ban artificial turf fields on Bainbridge Island. The ballot measure ran afoul of city rules.

As a concession, the city may allow voters an “advisory ballot,” which essentially allows residents to cast a toothless vote that policymakers can take or leave.

Proposed Turf Ban Won’t Make November Ballot in Bainbridge

By Tristan Baurick

Casting a vote to ban artificial turf fields on Bainbridge may now amount to a suggestion rather than a demand.

Based on the advice of the city attorney, the City Council on Wednesday opted not to place on the November ballot a measure that would prohibit plastic-based sports fields and raise the sales tax to support grass-covered fields.

The council may instead scale back the measure and present it to voters in February as a nonbinding advisory measure.

“We’re in a conundrum,” said Councilwoman Kim Brackett, noting the strong public support for the vote and the counter argument from City Attorney Paul McMurray that city code doesn’t allow voters to craft legislation.

Bainbridge Island’s classification as a “noncharter code city” prevents the creation of ordinances by initiative or referendum, McMurray said.

Even if Bainbridge were a charter city, as is the case with less than one-third of Washington’s cities, the petition would have fallen short of the required number of signatures. While signature gatherers were aiming for 10 percent of registered voters, state law requires 15 percent, according to McMurray

Artificial turf opponent Chris Van Dyk admitted he should have done more research before leading the effort to gather over 1,100 signatures, which amounts to just over 10 percent of the island’s registered voters.

Despite the legal roadblocks, Van Dyk said the council should greenlight the ballot measure anyway. He said many residents are concerned that artificial fields can harm players and contaminate groundwater.

“It’s a constitutional right that (citizens) can create laws independent of legislatures,” he said. “I urge you to do what the Constitution mandates you to do, and that is that you put it on the ballot.”

Council Chairman Bill Knobloch joined Brackett in supporting Van Dyk and rejecting McMurray’s advice.

“Hogwash,” Knobloch said of the city’s legal limitations. “We’ll do it. Let the higher authorities tell us we’re breaking the law. That’s a debate for the legal eagles.”

Knobloch and Bracket were voted down by the other three councilors present at the Wednesday meeting.

Councilman Barry Peters said the council has a responsibility to follow the city’s rules.

“We cannot lawfully honor the petition because we don’t have the legislative authority to entertain initiatives or referendum votes,” he said, adding that he welcomed a separate debate about changing the city’s rules to allow local initiatives.

As a compromise, Councilwoman Hilary Franz suggested the council approve an advisory ballot, which would be allowed under current city code. An advisory ballot could serve as a gauge of public opinion but would carry no legal authority.

If so moved, the council could adopt an ordinance that mirror’s the initiative’s goals.

Councilman Kjell Stoknes warned that the advisory vote could create public expectations that the council may not meet.

“If we’re not going to follow the advisory ballot, we shouldn’t do it,” he said. “I feel like we’re taking on an exercise that isn’t going to have good consequences.”

Peters doubted that the petition warranted an advisory ballot, which could cost the city up to $60,000. The ballot could throw the door open to other advisory ballots whenever groups of people lobby the city, he added.

“Should we have advisory votes when five hundred people sign a petition?” he asked. “What if a hundred people crowd into this room? What if fifty people write a letter?”

The advisory ballot proposal was sent to the council’s Land Use Committee for further deliberation.

McMurray stressed that city code does not prohibit another petition-based initiative calling for a vote on changing the city’s form of government. The proposed November ballot measure, which is governed by a different initiative process, would replace the elected mayor position with a city manager hired by the council.

One thought on “Ballot ban on artificial turf dries up

  1. Subject: GOOD CALL ON VAN DYK INITIATIVE — no new taxes and no gun decking new procedures
    To: Barry Peters , “” ,

    Subject: Denial of Van Dyk new sales tax initiative

    Barry — I applaud your articulation why Van Dyk’s initiative was fatally flawed and should not move forward. It is not for our government to trail blaze. If Van Dyk wants to sue and get the legal findings to support is position, that is fine. If COBI wants to change your procedures to allow citizen initiatives, that is fine also but it must be at the end of a studied and proscribed legal process. You prevented COBI from doing another ACT IN HASTE — REPENT AT LEISURE. Currently COBI is dealing with far too many lawsuits and challenges and we don’t need Van Dyk’s project taking away further energy.

    Again, thanks where thanks is due.

    Get the fields funded and get those youth and adults out there 7x24x365.


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