MN Supreme Court rules Bloomington disenfranchised voters on trash petition

Bloomington taxpayers just proved–again–that you can fight city hall, even if it takes years and means going all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The state high court ruled this week the city of Bloomington effectively disenfranchised thousands of residents by rejecting their petition in 2016 to put a ballot measure before voters over whether to implement organized trash collection.

“The significance is people still have rights against their city government. This means that people’s rights don’t just get trampled,” said attorney Greg Joseph, who represented residents pro bono. “This reminds rogue city governments that you have to honor the law. It may be inconvenient, but you’ve got to do  it.”

The Bloomington city clerk ruled the petition submitted by the grassroots group Hands Off Our  Cans met the legal criteria. But acting on the advice of City Attorney Sandra Johnson, then Mayor Gene Winstead and the Bloomington City Council nevertheless refused to put the issue on the ballot in November 2016. City Hall proceeded instead to impose a system called organized garbage collection, eliminating competition between providers and choice for residents.

A news release from Hands Off Our Cans underscores the implications for local governments of the court’s ruling.

The City Charter in Bloomington reserves for voters the broad powers of Initiative, Referendum, and Charter Amendment power. The Court found that the ballot measure was a valid expression of citizen legislative power, and that the City Council’s refusal to place it on the November ballot was not a proper exercise of its authority. The Bloomington Charter reserves for its people broad power to enact and change legislation, the majority held.

The decision marks the second victory for the grassroots activists over the city on the issue before the Minnesota Supreme Court.  In a unanimous 2018 ruling the court upheld the right of residents of  home rule charter cities to place legislation on the ballot for citizens to vote on.

RELATED: MN High Court Rules for Citizens Fighting Bloomington on Garbage

Bloomington has not yet responded to the latest legal loss. But it could lead to city hall  finally putting the controversial issue before voters,  according to Hands Off Our Cans.

The ruling means that the Charter Amendment, which will give the voters the power to choose their preferred system of trash collection in the City, must be placed on the ballot, at which time the voters can make their voices heard.

The Minnesota Supreme Court justices did not order Bloomington to put the issue on the ballot this fall. But the plaintiffs insist it’s time for city hall to honor the law and give citizens their say in a vote that’s years overdue.