Now it’s the lawyers’ turn in Albany’s latest romp into the wilds of direct democracy. Voters approved two initiatives written by North Albany resident Tom Cordier. One says the city council will need voter approval of any future urban renewal districts. No question about that one. But the other says the city cannot incur “new debt” above the amount of Feb. 28, 2012, without approval of a majority of electors in an election.
The city attorney believes this measure demands approval of debt by more than half the registered voters and therefore, under the constitution, needed approval of more than half of Albany voters to be enacted. That means it needed 13,792 yes votes, but it got only 4,825. Anticipating this development, the council weeks ago authorized a lawsuit asking a circuit court judge to determine whether the debt measure was constitutionally enacted or whether it fell short.
If it was enacted, then there are more questions for lawyers and the courts. For instance, what is “new debt”? And can this measure limit city debt retroactively, more than a year after being enacted? If so, what about the refinancing of water bonds that recently took place, saving city ratepayers $5.6 million in interest over the next 20 years and lowering annual payments by $300,000? Can that savings go ahead, or does Albany have to have yet another election on that?
The voters have spoken, but because of the clumsy phrasing they’ve approved, the last word is yet to be heard and it will likely come from the courts. (hh)