Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bellevue election advice lacks scrutiny


I would like to take issue with your editorial of Feb. 17, "Normalizing elections would be good for Bellevue."

While the Bellevue City Council may appreciate such lofty advice emanating from Ketchum, other citizens disagree that synchronizing the terms of office for its aldermen with the rest of the state would be "good for Bellevue." The editorial board of the Idaho Mountain Express suffers from the same hip-shot mentality as the Bellevue City Council. Neither group has explored the issue outside of their own circle to test the validity of their conclusions.

House Bill 505, which proposes to amend Bellevue's charter and increase the terms of office for alderman from two to four years, is a hastily conceived plan that limits Bellevue citizens' right to vote and guts the charter of its last meaningful authority.

On the surface, aligning Bellevue's terms of office with all other Idaho cities may seem like a reasonable thing to do. Perhaps it is, but sufficient public discussion has not taken place to fully educate the voters on what this proposal means and how it might affect future elections and Bellevue's status as "Idaho's last charter city."

Only one public hearing was held on the matter and no previous public discussion by the City Council preceded this hearing. In other words, it was the first time most Bellevue citizens had heard about the plan.

I attended that hearing at which several residents spoke in opposition to the change and asked, "What's the hurry?" The issue was not, as your editorial suggests, "driving its citizens crazy." After all, the election process has worked for more than 130 years and it does not take much time or a Super Pac to run for City Council. Why not wait, they asked, and put it to an advisory vote of the people next November? However, with no further discussion, the council voted unanimously to send the amendment to the Legislature.

The requirement to hold elections every two years is the last authority vested in the council by the Territorial Charter that has any meaning. Charters were given to Boise, Lewiston and Bellevue before Idaho became a state as a form of consistent government law pertaining to all of them. As their populations grew, Boise and Lewiston forfeited their charters, but Bellevue did not. However, over time, Bellevue has amended its charter several times to meet the challenges of modern city government.

The current City Council has voiced its desire to retain the city's status as "Idaho's last charter city," as a way to distinguish Bellevue from other small towns. But if the charter doesn't mean anything, if it doesn't convey any special authority, then that distinction is meaningless. One hundred thirty years of election history should not be tossed out lightly and anything that affects voting rights should be treated with great respect and deliberation.

And finally, your newspaper's derisive comments about Bellevue's low pizza consumption at Pizza and Politics events is belied by a standing-room-only crowd last year. In fact, the publisher admonished us not to help ourselves to more than two slices as there would not be enough to go around. Does the Express have a conflict of interest here? Fewer elections, fewer pizzas?

Florence K. Blanchard is a 35-year resident of Bellevue.

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