The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

October 22, 2013

Union vote remains on Nov. 12 ballot; Kress Building coming down but retaining elements

ENID, Okla. — In an attempt to avoid legal trouble, Enid City Commission took no action on the upcoming vote to allow city workers to unionize.

Further along in Tuesday’s special meeting, commissioners decided to demolish the Kress building and allow the downtown hotel’s builder to implement design elements of the historic building into the proposed Hilton Garden Inn.

City Manager Eric Benson asked to reconsider the city’s resolution placing the union election on the Nov. 12 ballot, because he was concerned the public was not adequately notified about it. In the three days between organizing the special meeting and Tuesday, however, he said it became clear through legal research the city actually did not have the authority to specifically say when the election should be held, therefore rendering part of the resolution moot.

During a meeting in September, the commission authorized the election, but thought it wouldn’t happen until January or February. Initially, commissioners thought there would not legally be enough time to publicize the resolution’s adoption and then take it to the Garfield County Election Board in time to put it on the November ballot.

Because the resolution was based on a public signature-driven initiative petition, the city now believes it had no right to set a date. It only had the responsibility of notifying the election board to hold the election, Benson said.

Earlier this year, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union organized a signature drive to get the issue on the ballot. If it becomes law, city workers will be able to collectively bargain for wages, benefits and other related policies.

Choices

The commission had several choices to consider, including adopting a second resolution to reset the election clock  — thereby postponing the election until next year. Commissioners settled on taking no action, which the city’s legal counsel said presented the least amount of litigation risk.

The question will remain on the Nov. 12 ballot and is open to registered voters within city limits.

City attorneys, in concert with an attorney for AFSCME, also said there probably will be no legal recourse for someone protesting the legitimacy of a Nov. 12 election, because the resolution was submitted to the election board before the public notice period was over.

“All that we have is the city manager taking a resolution so the election board can begin to prepare for that election, but that’s not going to be a procedural issue that’s going to cause a defect that any court is going to be concerned about,” said AFSCME’s attorney Doug Bernier.

Benson said he takes full responsibility for the row, but added that the city is “far more educated” about the issue.

City Attorney Andrea Chism noted initiative petition elections are rare, and Ward 5 Commissioner Tammy Wilson said there hadn’t been any Garfield County-level initiative petition votes in 30 years. She was part of a group that gathered signatures to change the county’s liquor laws in a vote held earlier this month.

“Nobody knows the answers. Nobody from the state down — nobody knows the answers to initiative petition questions. This is not just a city issue,” Wilson said.

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