Appellate Court opinion in favor of WPB Petitioners
Date: Saturday, October 06, 2007 @ 15:26:49 EST
Topic: Editorials

Appellate Court rules in favor of WPB petitioners

says: Citizens initiative and referendum rights “should be honored” and “legal right to govern themselves should not be abridged.” Lower courts not “authorized …to interfere with the electoral process by precluding a decision of the voters” on a proposed ordinance.


This week, the principles of Justice and fairness prevailed as this stinger of a decision rails against local government trying to prevent initiatives and referendums from getting on the ballot. For the city of Lake Worth, which presently holds petitions hostage from years ago and has twice attempted to impede the "electoral process,” it is the proverbial “handwriting on the wall.” The clarification of powers by the Appeals Court puts citizen rights to initiative and referendum in its proper place and relegates city efforts to stifle these public movements as impeding "the electoral process."

It should be obvious to city officials that when thousands of people sign a petition, it means they're not kidding... they want the issue on the ballot for everyone to vote on it. And holding up their initiatives and referendums flies in the face of the basic democratic principles and rights of the people as confirmed by this weeks Appellate Court opinion. Even if the referendum would be futile, the court said, it did not justify the lower court's interference with the right of the people to vote on the referendum.

In an unfortunate turn, the public is finding it increasingly difficult to be heard and more and more we are learning that cities have attempted to limit or squelch the electorate's right to a referendum. Some cities have even held petitions hostage without letting them be released for verification of the signatures, as Lake Worth has done with the Sunset petitions.

But this type of hijacking public rights, will now come under the scrutiny of the courts and in some cases might conceivably lead to prosecution under government abuse of power. These attempts to suppress valid public movements to secure relief through referendum has found its way into other communities where public input and petitions are blatantly ignored, marginalized and derailed by special interest influence. Whether it’s Orlando, Dade County, West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach or Lake Worth, the story is the same... cities inhibiting the proper flow of electoral power in the initiative or referendum process all of which is a strong indication that these local governments are NOT listening to the people. In Lake Worth, the people have never been polled to ascertain what their views are on anything. I suspect the same is true in these other communities as well.

When the people seek remedy and step out with petitions according to the law to do something about it, they often end up being sued by their own government after fulfilling all the requirements of a legal process. This insanity has further distanced the public from their government and has created an ever increasing credibility gap for local government... not to mention giving corruption the fertile ground it needs for growth. But enough is enough and finally a significant blow to this abuse has been rendered in principle and in law.

It’s also reassuring to note that the dissenting views of the Appellate Court were based almost entirely on the Doctrine of laches or in simple language, the delay in petitioners filing the petition… not on the rights of the people that had been infringed upon.

Because the City failed to comply with its legal duty to either adopt the petitioner’s proposed ordinances or submit them to the electorate in a referendum election, they interfered with the electoral process. We will see if that understanding results in city compliance or if they will continue to fly in the face of the will and rights of the people and pursue yet a higher court ruling.

Here are some clips of what I believe to be some of the more meaningful portions of this decision:

For your reference:
Doctrine of laches

WHEREAS, pursuant to the Florida Constitution, all political power is inherent in the people and the referendum is the essence of the reserved power of the voters of the City of West Palm Beach;


Section 2. Referendum Vote: The City Hall of the City of West Palm Beach shall not be relocated to another site unless the relocation is first approved upon favorable vote of a majority of the electors of the City of West Palm Beach voting thereon in a referendum election.

Section 3. Repeal of Laws and Conflict: All local laws and Ordinances of the City of West Palm Beach in conflict with any provisions of this Ordinance are hereby repealed. ["This ordinance" refers to the ordinance requiring a referendum. This effectively vacates any ordinances the city has passed in conflict with the court directive.]

[Here's what their city attorney did... ours operated under the same umbrella:]

“The resolution stated that the city attorney had “conducted such review and has determined that the Initiative Petitions do not contain ballot questions that may be properly placed on a ballot for consideration by the voters.”

“The City Commission tried to prevent the proposal from being placed on the ballot, contending that the proposal contained a defective ballot summary. The trial court denied the committee chairman's petition for a writ of mandamus and for injunctive relief to prohibit removal of the proposal from the ballot. On appeal, we reversed the denial of the writ of mandamus because the law plainly required the city to prepare a proper ballot summary and place the committee's proposed amendment on the ballot.”

*5 “In this case, it is undisputed that petitioners followed the procedures authorized by the city charter for requiring the City Commission to either adopt their proposed ordinances or submit them to the electorate in a referendum election. Yet, the trial court denied the petition based on the equitable doctrine of laches. The court reasoned that the Committee had unreasonably delayed challenging the City's plans to relocate the city hall and library and that the proposed ordinances, even if approved, could not be applied to block the planned relocation after years of City actions to implement the projects. However, neither delay in seeking a referendum nor the possible consequences of an election on the referendum can justify the court's failure to enforce the referendum process.”


“The people reserved to themselves the power of referendum. Their legal right to govern themselves should not be abridged.”

“the right of the voters to exercise their power of initiative and referendum should be honored “unless it is demonstrated that the ordinance is unconstitutional in its entirety.”

“the trial [lower] court was not authorized by the applicable law prospectively to interfere with the electoral process by precluding a decision of the voters on the proposed ordinance.”

“The common thread running through cases concerning the referendum process is the principle that citizens are free to express their views on municipal matters through the power of referendum and that courts should not interfere with the exercise of their referendum rights except in very narrow circumstances”

“if the city officials of Orlando had the right to change the location of the facility involved in this case, we see no reason why the people of the City of Orlando, voting in an initiative election upon a city ordinance changing the location of this permanent facility, should not have the same right.”

“The City's opposition to submitting the ordinances to the electors is based primarily on the passage of time and expenditure of funds on relocation efforts. However, those city expenditures were paid for by the taxpayers-the very same citizens who would weigh these factors and vote on any future relocation and cost issues. The city charter entitles them to vote on these issues, regardless of their failure to propose these ordinances at some earlier point.”

This article comes from Lake Worth Media

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