St. Paul Residents Remain Defiant Over Vote on Garbage
The dispute over whether the city of St. Paul will comply with the law and allow residents to vote on an organized garbage collection referendum has moved to the editorial pages, while awaiting direction from the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The Star Tribune recently ran a blistering counterpoint from one of the citizens who collected more than 6,000 signatures to require a referendum only to be refused that right by the city illegally, according to a district court.
Attorney Patricia Hartmann ripped a column defending the official city line by longtime St. Paul journalist and writer Bonnie Blodgett.
One notable red flag is her claim that she was “stunned” by the judge’s ruling that the city trash plan should be put to a vote. Nowhere does she provide any evidence to show that she even read the judge’s reasons for his decision.
In fact, the only explanation Blodgett offers for her criticism of the court’s ruling is her claim that the judge either forgot or ignored “the fact that City Council members and the mayor are elected representatives of we-the-people” and that “they are entrusted by law to protect the greater good.”
In other words, this writer claims that the citizens have no right to question the actions of their elected officials. This misplaced notion goes to the issue at the heart of this matter.
Hartmann’s blunt dismantling of Blodgett’s case makes for compelling reading.
Blodgett attempts to dismiss the significance of the 6,000-plus petition signatures that were gathered. Apparently, she is unaware that the number required is set by law; it is based on the number of votes cast in a previous election. The judge’s opinion details these basic facts.
The court also points out that the strict time limit to gather those signatures was a brief 45 days. Contrary to Blodgett’s claim, a petition drive will fail without significant voter support.
But ultimately, the issue has less to do with garbage collection than residents’ right to petition their local government as guaranteed by the city charter.
If enough citizens question the wisdom of any ordinance, through the process known as a referendum, the people can require that the law be subjected to a popular vote. Unless a majority of voters approve the law, it will not pass.
In order to establish the right to hold a ballot vote, our City Charter requires that sufficient support for the referendum be shown by gathering signatures of registered voters. Despite the city’s own admission that the requisite number of signatures had been obtained, the city wrongfully denied our right to the referendum.
Mayor Carter has vowed to stick with the trash collection system imposed on his constituents. Yet you can’t help but wonder if organized garbage won’t soon be on the trash heap of history once St. Paul residents get their say at the polls.