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Crestwood group now seeking signatures

May 18, 2005 - Signatures are being sought by a group of Crestwood residents seeking a public vote to reconsider an ordinance adopted by the Board of Aldermen approving a lease agree-ment with the Westfield Corp.

As proposed, the city would lease office space at the Westfield Shoppingtown Crest-wood for roughly 18 months while the ret-rofitting of the Government Center to include a new police facility takes place.

Under the agreement, the city would lease roughly 14,827 square feet of office space at a cost of $3,333.33 per month.

As first reported by the Call, five residents — Donald G. Clark, Zachary Mc-Gee, Donald Zinzer, Lillian C. Casey and Donald B. Ulmer — forming a Petitioners Committee recently submitted an affidavit for a referendum to reconsider the ordinance, No. 3,898.

Former state Rep. Jim Murphy, who is serving as spokesman for the group, said residents want to restore the city's financial health before proceeding with the renovation of the Government Center to include a new police facility. Residents are baffled, according to Murphy, that city officials are so intent on moving forward with the renovation project at a time when the city is borrowing money for operating expenses.

The citizens' group, called Crestwood Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, last week began collecting signatures for the referendum petition. Roughly 1,125 signatures of the city's registered voters are needed for re-consideration of the ordinance.

The City Charter states that if an ordinance is returned to the Board of Alder-men and the board fails to repeal the measure, voters then will consider it at a city election. Such an election would cost roughly $10,000, according to the group's petition.

But even if the group is successful in having the ordinance repealed, it may be a moot issue, according to City Attorney Rob Golterman.

During the May 10 Board of Aldermen meeting, he said that the ordinance has been "fully effectuated'' and the lease agree-ment between Westfield and the city is a valid and binding contract.

"There are a number of subject areas that by charter are not referendum eligible and those subject areas include ordinances that extend to the budget or capital program, ordinances that relate to the appropriation of money, ordinances that relate to zoning, ordinances that relate to the levy of taxes and there may be a couple of others,'' Golterman said.

"I have been for a couple of weeks now, been trying to determine whether this particular referendum falls inside or outside of those various subject areas and I can assure you that it has been somewhat of a dizzying exercise. I'm not aware of any other referendum petitions statewide where this exact subject matter has come up. So it's been a difficult process and that process is ongoing, as a matter of fact.''

The city attorney continued, "I do not believe that this ordinance relates to the appropriation of money, but there is a question as to whether or not this ordinance extends to the capital program and that is a question that is continuing to be researched. I will say, so as to perhaps avoid frustration on the part of the citizens and to answer the questions from members of the board, that referendum is used to suspend and ultimately repeal potentially an ordinance from becoming effective. The ordinance that was passed two weeks ago following two separate board meetings is an ordinance that has been fully effectuated. The lease has been signed. The parties' rights under that lease are now fixed. There is a valid and binding contract between the city and Westfield.

"It is at least my opinion and judgment that at this point a referendum petition cannot be used to alter that contractual relationship. So that at the end of the day if this ordinance is repealed or reconsidered by the board, it may not have an im-pact on the terms of the lease or the city's rights and obligations under the lease. That topic continues to be researched ...,'' Golt-erman said.

"But I guess to sum it up, it's difficult to envision the use of referendum whereby the board would be put into a position that it is interfering or causing breach of a contract. The board cannot act in an illegal manner and it cannot be forced to do so. So it is a very complicated issue. I will con-tinue to research and report to the board. I will be more than happy to meet with the Petitioners' Committee ... to try and ex-plain the process to reach conclusion ...,'' he said.

In response to a question from Ward 1 Alderman Richard LaBore, Golterman said, "The charter provides that an ordinance for which a referendum petition has been filed is suspended as to its effectiveness until it's either reconsidered or repealed by vote of the public. However, in this situation, again, the ordinance has been fully effectuated and so there's no — it's not as if the ordinance approved the lease agreement to become effective Aug. 1. If that was the case, then certainly a referendum petition could be used to suspend that ordinance becoming effective. But in this situation, the ordinance became effective and the lease became effective — actually the lease was signed the evening that it was passed. By terms of the lease, it became effective in April. So that's a different situation.''

Labore also asked Golterman, "... The time you're spending on this, is this part of your regular retainer or is this added expense to the city?''

Golterman said, "It's both. Part of it falls within my retainer. The phone calls and conferences with the staff and the mayor and the board, those are all part of the retainer. The extra research to try and figure it out is additional service.''

Mayor Roy Robinson said, "Well, the only thing I say about that is that no matter what the cost is, it's part of the charter. The people have a right to take whatever action they so deem necessary. That's the American way. So if it costs extra funds, it costs extra funds.''

Voters in August 2002 approved Prop-osition S, the extension of a half-cent sales tax to fund construction of a new police building, fund repairs at the Government Center and allow the continuation of the city's street repair and replacement program. The half-cent, capital-improvements sales tax had been scheduled to end in 2008, but voter approval of Proposition S extended the sales tax until 2023.

Due to the rising costs of concrete and steel, aldermen last summer scrapped the construction of the stand-alone police building and decided to retrofit the Government Center to include a new police facility.

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