After over 3,800 registered voters signed a petition to allow for a direct vote on the cost of eminent domain of Liberty Utilities, the Apple Valley just trolled its entire citizenry by placing a counter-measure on the ballot last night — one that effectively places so many restrictions on a public vote trigger, it effectively would never happen.
It’s cynical trolling from public officials at its very worst.
Instead of allowing a public vote on public debt over $10 million (which the citizen-signed petition allowed), the Town decided to lower it to a threshold of $5 million. But a vote would never be triggered if the following happen instead:
- The Town Council provides a public hearing prior to issuing the debt.
- The Council certifies (based on financial analysis) that the projected revenues from the enterprise exceed the debt payments proposed;
- The Council certifies that debt will not be paid by the taxing power of the Town; and
- The Council requires an annual independent audit to ensure that the proceeds of the debt are utilized in connection with the enterprise only.
The Town Council effectively trolled its citizens by saying “you can trust us, because we never lie and we’re always right.”
Here’s why each of these “public vote killer” items is ridiculous based on the law, and the past experience of this government body and others:
- Required Public Hearing. Any bond issuance of this amount needs to have a publicly-accessibly hearing anyway. Revolutionary! The public hearing requirement does nothing to offer up a voter check and balance. It just strengthens a rubber-stamping Council like the current one.
- Bond revenues exceed bond repayment — based on what Council says. This is already the law under Proposition 218. You can’t issue a revenue bond unless this is certified.
Yet, how many times has a Council in the High Desert promised that issuing revenue bonds would be covered by the revenues brought in? Does Victor Valley Water Replenishment District revenue bond wrangling ring a bell? One of the Council members in a neighboring city said that their revenue bond debt is a “financial risk” that threatens their city. Or the seven Beaumont, CA, officials indicted for public corruption for the sale of municipal bonds handled by companies in which they had a public interest? “Trust us” indeed!
- Certification that no taxes will be used to pay debt. Another “trust us” provision, and also — already law. Bond law already prohibits access to tax revenue for repayment of bonds.
- Requiring annual independent audit. The City of Bell, famous for public corruption, had an independent auditor (they also had the same legal firm as City Attorney as the Town of Apple Valley). Again, another “trust us” provision that does nothing to give the voters a voice on debt.
The Town’s ballot measure is intended to do one thing — confuse voters in the hopes that they won’t require the Town to put any sort of financing plan on the ballot.
As former Flint, Michigan Finance Director Marc Puckett said of the Town offering a financing plan of the water acquisition — it would only come after a court ruling.
The Town’s measure might as well be called the “Rubber Stamp Our Decisions” Act.