Voting rights initiative closes in on signature requirement (April 11, 2016)

Measure would allow residents to vote on public debt related to Liberty acquisition

APPLE VALLEY — An initiative that would allow residents to vote on the town’s use of bonds to pay for acquisition of the water system owned by Liberty Utilities, Apple Valley is close to completing its first significant hurdle toward landing a spot on the November ballot, according to the manager of the signature-gathering process.

Brent Johnson, who manages numerous initiatives, told the Daily Press about 750 signatures are needed to reach the required amount, which is 10 percent of registered voters in the town, or approximately 3,100 total signatures.

If adopted, the initiative — informally titled The Right to Vote on Debt Act — would amend the Apple Valley municipal code to add a requirement that voters approve by a majority vote any public debt over $10 million that provides funds for the acquisition of an enterprise, according to a previous Daily Press report.

The public debt mentioned in the statement is in reference to bonds the town would likely use to fund acquisition by eminent domain of Liberty’s water system, according to spokesperson for the initiative.

Speaking from Spokane, Washington where he’s based, Johnson said he expects completion of the signature gathering this week. He added that residents have been responsive during the process.

(Residents) feel that they should have a say and a right to vote on (public debt), Johnson said. To me it’s a no-brainer issue. If you’re spending that money, you should have voter approval … Our motto is people should have a right to vote on any issue — whether we agree with the issue or not. We believe in democracy. We believe in ‘We the people,’ not the powers that be.

The powers that be in this case — the Town of Apple Valley and, more specifically, the Town Council — have stayed mum on the issue since signature gathering began in January; Town spokeswoman Kathie Martin previously told the Daily Press the town can’t comment on the initiative until the signatures are filed with the town clerk.

Once all the signatures are collected, they will be submitted to the town clerk, according to Randy Terrell of Passantino Andersen Communications, the public relations firm involved in the initiative’s campaign.

The Town has 30 working days to verify that the signatures are valid and the measure has qualified, Terrell said. (After that), it will go to the ballot in November for voters to decide.

The Right to Vote on Debt Act was proposed by Apple Valley residents Chuck and Pat Hanson, and the Daily Press reported in December that Ranchos was financially backing the initiative.

Following Liberty Utilities’ purchase of Ranchos, it was initially unclear whether Liberty would continue to fund the initiative, but President of Liberty Utilities California Greg Sorensen told the Daily Press nothing has changed with regard to the financial backing.

It’s not Liberty’s preference or way that we want to be coming into a community, being at odds with the town or the Town Council, Sorensen said. Our way of operating is to form a good working relationship with the town and (to) work collaboratively on issues. I wish we were spending more time in that manner. I think it would be a lot more productive if we were talking about what projects should be done by the water company. How can we attract growth, bring jobs, and create a better overall environment?

Despite his desire for a less strenuous relationship with the town, Sorensen added that the initiative proposed by the Hansons — who aren’t Liberty customers — is important to Apple Valley residents.

Support for this measure, I think, really gets back to allowing citizens … a voice in (the) incurring (of) large amounts of debt that they and potentially their children would have to repay, he said. It’s allowing citizens to be more involved … in the choices that are made by government. I think if that’s what this ballot measure brings forth and achieves then it’s a successful endeavor. I can’t see the counter (argument) to this saying no citizens should have a voice in how the town’s business is being done.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press