So you think it’s time to replace Lewiston’s city manager system with a strong mayor.
Then vote against Proposition 1 on Nov. 2.
Prefer to have Lewiston managed by an appointed administrator instead of an elected mayor?
Then vote yes on Prop. 1.
Yes means no.
No means yes.
Join the club.
Usually, voters get a straightforward choice on the ballot. A proposition typically proposes change.
For instance, in 2018, Idahoans decided this: “An initiative to provide that the state shall amend its state plan to expand Medicaid eligibility to certain persons. ... Shall the above-entitled measure proposed by Proposition Two be approved?”
In 2017, Lewiston voters were asked: Shall the Lewiston School Board “be authorized to issue general obligation school bonds ... in the principal amount not to exceed ($59.8 million) for the purpose of financing the costs of acquisition, construction, furnishing and equipping a new, comprehensive, grades 9 through 12 high school?”
Go back to 2006, when this topic was on the Idaho ballot: “An initiative increasing K-12 education funding for local public schools by adding 1 percent to the state sales tax. ...”
That’s how it works: Proponents of statewide ballot initiatives, for instance, write their own questions. They have to seek a preliminary review from Idaho’s secretary of state and attorney general. They’re free to disregard that advice, but doing so risks legal and constitutional problems later on.
On this, Lewiston’s city administrators and elected leadership are blameless. They had nothing to do with it.
More than a half-century ago, the Idaho Legislature dictated the language of a city manager ballot question.
Then, in 1984, lawmakers tweaked it. Instead of asking voters if they wanted to drop the system, now they would be deciding whether to keep it. Ironically, the following year, Pocatello dropped the city manager system for a strong mayor. Since then, three cities — Lewiston, McCall and Twin Falls — continue to operate under the system.
All of which means Lewiston voters will confront this convoluted question: “Shall the city of Lewiston retain its organization under the ‘council-manager plan.’ ” Talk about putting a thumb on the scales.
The folks at Lewiston SMART are going to get bogged down taking the time to educate individuals to counter-intuitively cast a ballot.
Meanwhile those defending the city manager system have to know based on previous ballot measures such as Medicaid expansion, a new high school or even local water and sewer bonds, voters have been in a mood for change. They’ve been inclined to vote yes on most of the ballot measures put before them.
Either way, it’s a recipe for perpetual rancor.
For the sake of argument, presume Lewiston voters essentially tie on this question.
Or let’s say the mandate is muddled. Two candidates — Wilson Boots and state Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston — support the strong mayor system. But the third candidate, Councilor Bob Blakey, prefers the appointed manager. What if Boots and Johnson get a bigger share of the vote than Prop. 1?
How long before a few dozen voters contend they were misled by the wording on the ballot? When you have losing candidates complaining about “rigged elections,” where does this lead? To another city manager election? Or a third?
The Idaho Legislature created this quandary. When it reconvenes next January, it can find a remedy.
After all, if lawmakers have time to take on phantoms such as the bogus critical race theory, they can deal with this. — M.T.