Envision moves to block Condon suit against Worker measure

August 11, 2015-Spokesman-Review-Nicholas Deshais

Envision Spokane is pushing back against Mayor David Condon, who last week sued to keep the group’s Worker Bill of Rights from appearing on the city’s general election November ballot.

In a response to Condon’s lawsuit, the group argues that the mayor doesn’t have the authority to prevent the measure from reaching the ballot, and that only a supermajority of council members can vote to block any initiative from appearing before voters.

Brian Coddington, the city’s spokesman, said today that Envision’s response is part of the typical court process, and the city will file a response tomorrow.

Superior Court Judge Salvatore Cozza will hear the case this Thursday.

“We look forward to the hearing on Thursday,” Coddington said.

Condon’s suit came just a week after the Spokane City Council approved the measure for the ballot, albeit with two “advisory” questions. The questions, which were approved by a 4-3 vote, will basically ask voters if the city should raise taxes to pay for Envision’s measure or if other city services should be cut to pay for it.

The latest measure put forth by Envision Spokane – the group’s fourth to qualify for the ballot – would amend the city charter to require large employers to pay workers a “family wage,” ensure equal pay for equal work regardless of gender or race, and make it more difficult to terminate workers. The measure would make the rights of a corporation secondary to people’s rights.

In April, the city’s hearing examiner reviewed the initiative, calling it “legally flawed.” The examiner’s written opinion called into question the measure’s fourth “right” regarding corporate powers, saying it exceeded “the jurisdictional limits of the initiative power.”

In the 19-page document filed with the Spokane County Superior Court yesterday, Envision said the Condon and court had not authority to stop its initiative and “this is a political dispute to be resolved outside the courthouse.”

Pointing to the Spokane Municipal Code, Envision said that Condon “seeks to interfere with the legislative process of both the Council and the people of Spokane, in violation of the theory of separation of powers and outside of the Mayor’s executive authority.”

City law states that “No challenge shall be filed by the city council unless at least five members of the city council vote to challenge the initiative or referendum measure.”

The law also states that the city council and the city administration can challenge an initiative or referendum measure as illegal or unconstitutional, but only after it has adopted a resolution directing the county auditor to place the measure on the ballot.

In the document filed yesterday, Envision also argues that Condon doesn’t have the power to stop the initiative because it doesn’t cause him injury, “economic or otherwise. … Mayor Condon does not allocate the city funds, the City Council does.”

Finally, Envision said that by allowing the mayor to prevent the measure from appearing on the ballot, the citizens’ right to govern themselves is trampled.

“Further, Mayor Condon’s central argument here – that the Mayor has the authority to enjoin a proposed initiative that purportedly conflicts with state and federal laws – suggests the Mayor could also file an action to enjoin the City Council from considering proposed ordinances that purportedly conflict with state or federal laws,” the document said. “Such an absurd result would allow interference by the executive directly into the pending legislative process – a result that the Mayor seeks in this case, to prevent the people of the City of Spokane from acting in their own legislative capacity, as envisioned by the initiative process.”