City Attorney Dave Olsen’s response, as cited in the Boulder City Review, provides his views concerning the Nevada Supreme Court’s recent decision finding that the city had violated law when it sued several Boulder City citizens who had initiated petitions. He is quoted as saying that the “sad thing” about the case is that the courts did not consider the merits of the case. He also stated that “in our minds we were not suing them,” i.e., the petitioners.
In my view, the real sad aspects of these lawsuits are:
A. Suing its own citizens for signing petitions seeking to have a vote to determine city policy was not only unnecessary, it was illegal. Apparently a Supreme Court decision was necessary for the City Council to recognize that citizens have a constitutional right to petition and that there are legal avenues to contest the legality of a petition without suing citizens for initiating a petition.
It appears that the City Council chose to sue us personally to “send citizens a message,” i.e., initiate a petition that we don’t like and we will sue you personally using all the financial resources of the city. After all, I was sued separately for each petition I signed rather than combining them into one lawsuit, which would have saved both parties money.
The suits were not filed until after we had gathered the necessary voter signatures. It was clear to me, that they had every intention of suing me personally and repeatedly.
B. Before submitting these petitions, I requested that the city attorney review the petitions’ language for any potential problems. If he had agreed to this simple request, it might have precluded this long legal process. His response to me was that he worked for the city not the citizens and it would be a conflict of interest if he provided assistance.
A petition requesting a vote of the citizens concerning a proposed policy is not adversarial. It is not a case of city council verses citizens. It is simply the most effective way of determining the wishes of the voters and it allows more citizens to become involved in the political process.
Our council members have stated that they are elected to represent the wishes of the voters, yet when the opportunity presented itself to actually determine these wishes, the council decided to sue to prevent a vote. During public comment before the council, I requested that in the future, the City Council authorize (direct) the city attorney to provide assistance, if requested, by reviewing proposed citizen initiated petitions in draft to avoid future lawsuits of this nature. To my knowledge, the council has chosen not to take this proactive step.
C. The financial costs to the city have yet to be fully determined however, it appears that expenses to the city could be more than $300,000. It is almost inconceivable that any justification can be made for spending this amount of taxpayer money to prevent a vote of the people.
The city attorney chose not to represent the council in these suits, rather a Las Vegas law firm was hired. I believe that they knew exactly what they were doing, delay filing suits until the last moment, hiring a law firm and suing each individual separately for each petition This hardly meets the definition of “in our minds we were not suing them.”
D. The City Council should encourage citizen participation in formulating city policy on issues that affect us. They should welcome the opportunity to learn directly from the voters what action the city should take.
Clearly, their action in suing citizens to prevent a vote sends exactly the opposite message.