Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Threat of recall angers council

State lawmaker asks Bellevue to reconsider 25 mph speed limit

Express Staff Writer

In addition to the responsibility of the city's future growth, Bellevue City Council members now have one more thing to be anxious about: their seats in public office.

At a meeting in mid-September, Bellevue resident Teresa Bergin presented the council with a petition asking the city lawmakers to reject developer Harry Rinker's application for annexation.

If approved as currently proposed, Rinker's Woodbridge Village development would add approximately 280 acres to the city, as well as 720 homes.

"Some people said they wouldn't have signed it if the plan was for fewer homes," Bergin said during a recent interview. "However, a lot of people are opposed to it altogether."

The fact that residents oppose the annexation is no surprise for the council, which heard plenty of negative sentiment during the half dozen public hearings on a myriad of the development's details. However, the entire council was shocked and disappointed to read that the petition included a threat to remove any council member, by way of recall, who voted in support of Rinker.

Bergin wouldn't disclose who wrote the petition, which carried 112 signatures, but said that had she written it, she wouldn't have included the recall section.

"In most situations, I think the council has done a good job," Bergin said, adding that this wasn't enough to keep her from signing. "Everybody who signed it was eager to do so."

City Clerk Dee Barton said that for a council member or mayor to be recalled, it would require a petition with signatures from at least 20 percent of registered voters during the last election. According to Barton, that means the petition would need at least 220 signatories. Despite the number on the current petition being much closer to 10 percent, council members expressed their frustration at a meeting on Thursday, Sept. 27.

"We're choosing to tackle some tough issues that previous councils ignored," Councilwoman Beth Robrahn said. "It's disappointing that someone would threaten the people who chose to work on these tough growth issues facing our city."

Council members also appeared exasperated that not a single person who signed the petition was in attendance at the meeting on Sept. 27 for the noticed discussion on the petition and that only a small minority were present at the annexation public hearings.

"How many people on this list showed up to our meetings with Rinker?" Councilman Chris Koch asked. "Why weren't they there to offer any solutions of their own?"

Bergin surmised that the unusually hot summer, when the public hearings were held, and cramped size of Bellevue City Hall, kept many residents away from the meetings. Still, Councilman Steve Fairbrother said that the recall threat was not the proper way of appealing to the council and doubted if all the signatories knew the recall was included in the petition.

"This is kind of a bullying tactic, but we have to do what's best for the city," Fairbrother said, explaining that if the city denies the annexation then the developer could approach the county, and Bellevue wouldn't receive any compensation for the impact on its services. "I talked to a number of people who signed and told me they felt misled as they didn't know about the recall."

It will be a while before it becomes evident if there is any weight behind the recall threat, as the council's decision on the annexation is still a long way off. With the major issue of water rights still to be thoroughly discussed, both council members and the developer agreed at their last meeting in September that an agreement is far from being reached. The next meeting on the subject has been tentatively set for the end of October.

In other Bellevue news, Idaho House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, warned the Bellevue Council that its new ordinance slowing the speed along the entirety of state Highway 75 within the city limits to 25 mph could jeopardize a law that allows cities to determine their own speed limits, rather than having them set by the Idaho Department of Transportation.

At the Bellevue council meeting on Thursday, Sept. 27, Jaquet said that the speed limit was unreasonably low on the north and south ends of town, and that opponents could use this as an example of why the state bill should be repealed.

In fact, in the winter of 2003, Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, pushed a bill in the Idaho Legislature with the express purpose of removing all Idaho cities' rights to set their own speed limits. The bill was in response, specifically, to Bellevue's 25 mph speed limit.

While council members agreed that perhaps the limit could be raised to 35 mph north of Atkinson's Valley Market, they pointed out that there was a lot of support from residents for the reduction as a safety measure, and it's not in place to inconvenience commuters or tourists.

Mayor Jon Anderson asked that the issue be placed on a future council agenda to discuss if the speed should be raised on some sections of the highway.

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