By Scott Biddle
Shortly after Judge Hughes ruled that the city of Searcy does NOT have an ordinance establishing a 30 day limit for the filing of referendum petitions, somebody asked me “What does this mean? Is it over?” As I thought about how to respond to this inquiry, an image popped into my mind from a movie that was ingrained in my memory after I was taken to see it in the theater as a young boy. We, the faithful few freedom fighters, had made our stand and had blown up the city’s death star ordinance and were now awaiting the opportunity to celebrate our victory over the forces of tyranny with a grand ceremony (the special election). Of course, this analogy brings with it its own lessons and warnings.
First, we must learn that when a few citizens make a stand for what’s right and take on evil oppressors, they can indeed emerge victorious. Second, we must realize that even though we have won this minor battle, there are more battles that await us (they did make two sequels after the “angry mob” blew up the death star you know), and unless we can inform our fellow citizens and encourage them to join us in our struggle the mayor and her minions can still win the special election that awaits us. Third, we must understand that as long as our current city government remains in place we will face the threat of an arrogant oligarchy which intentionally acts in opposition to the will of the people to pursue their personal agendas and even goes so far as to take actions they know to violate the law and/or constitution in order to get their way. Looming in my mind is the possibility that having seen their death star ordinance destroyed, the city will attempt to craft another such ordinance with which to oppress the citizenry and make it as difficult as possible for them to take an active role in the process of governing the city in which they reside. Should they attempt to construct another such impediment to democracy, I am willing to fly into it during the construction process to take it out. Who’s with me?
Ultimately, final victory will not be achieved until citizens everywhere join forces to root out the corrupt governments we have allowed to take control of our society and on that day we will all join in widespread celebration (which in my opinion might be the only additional scene from the “Special Edition” of Return of the Jedi that is worth watching).
An important final point I will mention here (which steps away from the analogy completely) is that as I write this The Patriot hasn’t yet posted an e-mail they acquired in which Mayor Laforce tells the city attorney the following on June 16th:
I have thoroughly researched our minutes, ordinances and resolutions, Code of Ordinances etc….City adopted a new Code of Ordinances by Ordinance 519 (in attachment above) I believe this Ordinance repealed all other ordinances except those specifically listed in the ordinance. There is nothing in that Code of Ordinances reflecting the City having a deadline on filing a referendum petition.
That e-mail was sent by the mayor 2 weeks before they rejected our petitions and 4 weeks before we filed suit against them. Did you notice what the mayor herself said 2 weeks before they rejected our petitions as being beyond the 30 day deadline? The mayor and her cohorts just wasted everyone’s time and money so that a court could tell them what the mayor already knew!
Furthermore, after we discovered that the city attorney was hanging his case on the definition of the term “administrative ordinance”, we helpfully directed him to the Arkansas Supreme Court’s definition of that particular legal term and the case law which established that definition (the same definition and precedents cited by our attorney in court and accepted as authoritative by Judge Hughes) and asked Mr. Gibson not to waste the city’s resources or ours with a lawsuit. In fact, on several occasions when we had found points of law that favored us we approached the city and offered them the opportunity to back down gracefully and avoid a lawsuit and the city repeatedly responded by ignoring us.
Since I began writing this article, I have heard a rumor that the city council intends to keep delaying as long as possible and might even try to put this off until the 2010 general election. Not only is this unwise, it is illegal (not that our city council has bothered to obey the law so far). State law says that when a referendum petition calls for a special election (as ours did) then the city council must call that election on the second Tuesday of a month within 120 days of the certification of the petitions.
The last possible time the city council can do that is Tuesday October 13, 2009 since our petitions were certified on July 10, 2009. They’ll miss that date, but they can still get it on the ballot in November or December and if the judge has to order them to obey the law, I can’t imagine that the voters will be terribly happy with them.
Scott Biddle is a guest contributor to The Arkansas Patriot. He is the Chairman of the “Searcy Friends of the Voters,” a group that organized the petition drive to have the A&P Tax placed on the ballot.
The views of guest contributors to The Arkansas Patriot do not necessarily reflect the views of The Patriot, the editor, or other contributors, but most of the time they do.