If they brave the weather, do their civic duty, and go to the polls this coming week, Marion voters will have a chance to unwrap a long-overdue Christmas present.
It won’t be a shiny new thing they open during voting Tuesday at Eastmoor Church or in advance at the Courthouse.
Rather, it will be a chance to begin tearing away at layers of disrespect that have become smotheringly wrapped around basic rights that no one should have tried to take away in the first place.
Proponents of Charter Ordinance 22, which Marion residents will vote on, love to hear themselves talk about the reasons they support it.
But ask them a simple question and demand a direct answer to it: To accomplish any of the things they say the ordinance will do, why is it necessary to include limits on voters’ rights?
They’ll reply with misdirection, talking about one of many scare tactics they seem to relish employing, because the simple truth is: It’s not necessary. It is instead a needless slap in voters’ faces.
Whether through arrogance, greed, ignorance, or all three, what the mayor and a group of city council members have tried to foist on misinformed voters is nothing short of a power grab.
Adding language that makes bond elections optional or that imposes nearly insurmountable deadlines and four times the normal signature requirements on petitions challenging borrowing has absolutely nothing to do with any of the things proponents say the ordinance will accomplish.
It’s sleight of hand. If they can get you worrying about other things, you won’t notice that they’ve picked your pocket of one of our most cherished American rights: the right to vote.
Worse yet, the things they say the ordinance will do if you will agree to sign away your rights are just as deceptive.
Contrary to statements repeatedly made by the mayor, a 0.75% sales tax imposed in 2001 to support the city’s industrial park won’t automatically go away if Charter Ordinance 22 is rejected.
Bonds that tax was supposed to pay off have been retired, but opinions from the attorney general’s office are clear: Once the original purpose of any project-related tax has been achieved, any extra money raised can be transferred to another use without voter action.
The only way the sales tax would be in danger of elimination is if voters petitioned to end it. Linking additional borrowing to the tax could, under a stretched interpretation of the law, take away voters’ rights to do that until the additional borrowing is paid off. So the real reason for Charter Ordinance 22, which limits voters’ rights on other bond issues, is to exercise a loophole that would limit their right to decide on sales taxes, too.
That’s a double whammy, and it’s just the latest in a series of attempts to disenfranchise city residents. Another is the council’s new rule that citizens no longer can comment on proposed city actions until after the council has acted on them. Is this still the United States, or have we suddenly been relocated to Russia?
Whether council members are power-hungry, weren’t paying attention, or simply weren’t smart enough to understand when a company that makes money off city borrowing created this scheme to disenfranchise voters isn’t clear.
What is clear is that some members, rather than admit their error, are so vain and bullying that they will resort to all manner of half-truths to try to keep the rest of us from seeing that they made a mistake.
Charter Ordinance 22 also does absolutely nothing to prevent a property tax increase, nor is it the only way to allow repair of city streets.
Despite what supporters claim, the main purpose isn’t to pay for street repairs at all. The mayor in particular seems insistent on building roads to nowhere within the city’s industrial park, which in more than two decades has attracted no real industry, just a few commercial businesses, and a couple of lots that are less industrial park and more industrial parking lot.
Adding streets to vacant lots when no one has been clamoring in buying lots that already have streets to them throws good money after bad in a vain attempt to prevent voters from having a right to approve bonds or consider changes to the city’s sales tax.
Among the streets that supposedly would be repaired by Ordinance 22 borrowing, some already have been fixed and paid for. What the city is looking for is the ability to transfer the already-paid bills for those projects over to new borrowing so officials can make themselves more popular with city employees by giving bigger bonuses, bigger raises, and bigger purchases of excessive equipment.
Voting “no” on Charter Ordinance 22 won’t change the sales tax, increase property taxes, eliminate street repairs, or do any of the other alarmist things proponents of the ordinance deceptively claim.
It will send to politicians with less brain power than ego a message that the citizens of Marion are tired of being disrespected, discounted, and deceived.
It’s time for Marion’s residents to take back their town. Voting “no” on Charter Ordinance 22 is an important first step.
— ERIC MEYER