Town opts for own measure (July 29, 2016)

Council will place alternative to Hansons’ initiative on Nov. ballot

APPLE VALLEY — Inclusion of the Right to Vote on Debt Act on the November ballot was unanimously approved by the Town Council during Tuesday’s meeting, but it turns out the voter-initiated measure will not stand alone.

An alternative measure that, if passed, would allow the town to continue water system acquisition efforts unencumbered by another election was also approved following a public hearing during which the competing measure was touted as a common-sense ordinance that wouldn’t further slow the decision-making process related to acquisitions.

Council also called the Public Service Enterprise Accountability and Transparency Act a more clearly defined ballot measure that responds to public confusion surrounding the one initiated by voters.

A key difference between the competing measures is that the voter-initiated one aims to require voter approval for acquisition of any enterprise that incurs public debt over $10 million — namely Liberty Utilities, Apple Valley’s water system — while the town’s would allow for similar oversight, but with acquisition of the water system excluded from voter approval.

Before the 5-0 vote, as well as an additional vote that formed an ad hoc subcommittee to write ballot arguments and rebuttals, Town Attorney John Brown said submitting the proposed measure directly to voters was legally within the purview of the Town Council.

We have a rich and long history in the state of California, and in other states, of competing ballot measures appearing on ballots from time to time, Brown said.

Still, some residents urged Council to reject the alternative measure, essentially calling it a deceptive slap in the face to the memory of the late Chuck Hanson, who along with his wife, Pat, introduced the Right to Vote on Debt Act last year in response to what opponents have described as the town’s misguided attempt to take Liberty’s water system by eminent domain.

Town resident Katie Manning spoke to doing the right thing during public comment.

We deserve a chance to vote on what is on the table, not your ill-advised quest in greed, Manning told Council. You should focus on what we already have, and not (on) absorbing something that works perfectly fine. We deserve a voice, we are offended by your bullying tactics, and we do have very long memories.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Government Accountability member Greg Raven characterized the town’s efforts as an insane jihad against Liberty, who financially backed the Hansons’ measure and the signature-gathering process that amassed 3,873 valid signatures over a five-month period.

The very least you could do now is to show at least a little token respect by allowing the citizens’ initiative to stand on its own on the ballot, Raven said. Placing your competing measure on the ballot may fool enough voters to allow you to continue your moneygrubbing ways, but it will also show that you have zero confidence in your own propaganda, and are willing to resort to tricks and deception to continue on this road to ruin, which was created by you and you alone.

The town has maintained from the beginning that a majority of Apple Valley residents support local control of the water system, and has also stated that a majority of opposition stems from a small group of outspoken residents who don’t believe water rates could be immediately lowered following acquisition, as asserted by Assistant Town Manager Marc Puckett.

Prior to both of Tuesday’s votes, attorney James Harrison, who specializes in election matters, presented a report to Council on the potential impact passage of the Hansons’ measure would have on the town. He described some of the language in the measure as complicated and broadly defined, which he said could result in a significant impact on the town, including the immediate impact of increasing time and costs related to acquisition of the water system.

This measure, however, goes beyond the town’s plans to acquire the Apple Valley water system, Harrison said, and would in fact cover other projects the town may want to entertain in the future. And that results from the fact that ‘enterprise’ is defined to include other projects such as electricity generation, stormwater (and) sewer systems.

The measure would effectively impose another step in the process, according to Harrison, who said voter approval for other projects could result in delays, legal challenges and additional costs in connection with the conduct of elections.

So the town’s measure was adopted as a result and would establish safeguards in connection with the Town’s issuance of public debt, according to town documents.

The measure would generally require voter approval of any Town debt of more than ($5 million) where the debt is for the purpose of acquiring, constructing, improving, or financing an enterprise, the documents show, and the debt is secured against the future revenues of that enterprise… But voter approval would not apply if the Council conducts a public hearing prior to issuing public debt, certifies that projected revenues from the enterprise exceed the debt payments proposed, certifies that debt will not be paid by the taxing power of the town and requires an annual independent audit to ensure that the proceeds of the debt are utilized in connection with the enterprise only.

But town resident and former Hesperia Mayor Diana Carloni O’Malley took issue with language in the question the town’s initiative will pose to voters. She wanted the question to focus solely on whether or not the town should adopt an ordinance to finance the water system, which would circumvent a vote, and she called the exceptions to voter approval within the measure confusing and misleading.

You offer the public nothing, O’Malley said. If these measures go through as presented, I would be incredibly shocked, I would think it a lack of leadership, I would think it resorting to political gamesmanship. I never thought that about any of you. I urge you to step up and do the right thing. Reword these questions fairly. Don’t be bobbleheads.

Later, Councilman Larry Cusack, who has remained largely mum on acquisition of the water system due to business his Apple Valley Communications company does with Liberty, supported the language in the town’s measure and expressed frustration related to what he described as the hindrance the Right to Vote on Debt Act would place upon Council.

We’ve got residents coming to us, asking us to fight the rate increases and we go fight them every year, Cusack said. We’ve probably spent millions of dollars in fighting these rate increases with no success. Every one has gone through … And it’s just very frustrating we’ve gotten to this point that we have to do these (ballot measures).

He added that Council must continue down the road toward stabilizing rates for town residents.

If we don’t … it will never stop, Cusack said. There will always be another rate increase. There will always be more money to be sent … We’ve done so much to build this community and help this community out (after) the outcry of people who’ve come to us and talked to us and want us to get to this point where we are now, and we have to continue and be able to function as a town … and do what we’ve been voted in here to do.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press