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Boise revises main library ballot initiative ordinance

The changes do not substantially change the ordinance passed by voters last fall, but will allow city staff to legally prepare a proposal for Boiseans to consider.
Credit: City of Boise
A rendering of the proposed Boise Main Library in 2018.

BOISE, Idaho — The city of Boise removed some legal hurdles to moving forward with a new main library.

With only one vote against, Boise City Council voted Tuesday to revise the ordinance passed by ballot initiative last fall requiring a public vote on any proposal for a library project over $25 million. The Idaho Press reports that city legal staff said once the initiative was passed the way it was worded created a requirement that the city could not spend any money or staff time on a main library before it was approved, but in order to develop a proposal to show the voters it would need to spend staff time and some funds.

The changes do not remove the requirement of a vote on a library project more than $25 million or substantially change the ordinance, but only changed the language to allow city staff to legally prepare a proposal for a new library for Boiseans to consider.

This ballot initiative, which was written and put forward by citizens group Boise Working Together, was the subject of fierce debate over its constitutionality last fall. Several city council members and former Mayor Dave Bieter were opposed to the ordinance, contending it was illegal because it gave an “administrative” function on funding to the voters to decide. Bieter pledged to challenge it in court, but his challenger and newly elected Mayor Lauren McLean said she would not, even though she would not vote for it.

Boise Working Together contested the city’s legal reading of the ordinance and said the city could move ahead with the library as it was written. David Klinger, a spokesman for the group, reiterated this claim Tuesday evening.

“'Boise Working Together' contends the City can move forward, after an improved planning process, to a future vote,” he wrote in a press release. “On this point, we have mutually agreed to disagree.”

RELATED: Boise City Council, board members discuss future of downtown library

City Council Member Patrick Bageant, who worked on the issue of changing the ordinance, said although there are constitutional questions about the ordinance it was not the city council’s place to decide that.

“There’s no constitutional conundrum here, and it’s not one for us to solve in the first place,” said Bageant, an attorney. “The real question is if we are going to have an ordinance that works or are we going to have an ordinance that’s broken and prevents the public from voting.”

The lone dissenting vote against the change was City Council President Elaine Clegg. She has said multiple times she believes the ballot initiative was unconstitutional and voting for it in any way would be a violation of her oath to uphold the Idaho Constitution. Clegg said she would prefer the issue be decided by the courts.

“I recognize and admit going through (the courts to determine the legal) process is painful, long and potentially difficult for the staff and for our legal team, but at the end of the day I can’t shake the fact that to date I would have voted for an ordinance that is unconstitutional, and I am going to stick with that.”

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