Is a Referendum on Organized Trash Collection a Lost Cause?

Bloomington Council Ignores Petitions, Proceeding Without Vote

In its February 11 edition, the Bloomington Sun Current reported that the “effort to put [organized trash collection] to a vote of the city’s residents appears to have been a lost cause.”

This statement may be a bit premature.  The reporting was certainly incomplete.

The Bloomington City Council adopted its organized trash collection ordinance in mid-December on a simple vote of the city council members.  By the City Charter, residents had 30 days to petition the city to put the question to a vote of citizens.  Less than 1,250 signatures were required; approximately 1,400 were collected prior to the deadline. 

On January 15, a representative of the petition drive met with the City Clerk to discuss the Charter requirements and to review and turn in the petition. The clerk did a cursory review and indicated that the petition forms looked good and the quantity of signatures looked sufficient.

The Sun Current article reported that,

“The petition process requires [that the] petition … state the purpose, including a copy of the ordinance amendment.  And signatures collected by the organizers of the petition need to have a notarized affidavit…”

Copies of the amended ordinance had been circulated with every petition as signatures were collected.  However, to submit each petition sheet with a copy of the amended ordinance would have required the organizers to print and attach approximately 700 double sided pages prior to the submission deadline.  The City Clark was asked about the requirements to notarize each petition sheet and to attach copies of the amended ordinance to each sheet prior to submission.  The clerk indicated that if there were any issues specifically pertaining to the attachment of the amended ordinance or the notarization of each sheet, it would be noted as an insufficiency and would be correctable in the 30-day window after official notification of the insufficiency.  This would certainly be consistent with the Bloomington City Charter, Section 5.06, which provides that after a finding of insufficiency, “The committee then has 30 days to obtain and file additional signature papers and to correct the petition.”

The petition organizers reported that the clerk attempted to contact someone in the attorney's office, but no one was available.

On January 20, the City Clerk provided a response to the petitions and determined there were 1258 verifiable petitioners, which exceeded the number required to have a referendum on the amended ordinance.  She also noted insufficiencies for not attaching a copy of the amended ordinance to every petition sheet and for not notarizing every sheet.

Then, on January 25, the City Attorney overruled the opinion of the City Clerk, handing down the opinion that the petition was insufficient and there would be no opportunity to correct the insufficiencies.

On February 12, within the 30-day time window provided by the City Charter, the Referendum Petition organizers submitted additional documentation to meet the insufficiencies.  The City refused to recognize as valid the signatures of better than 15 percent of the registered voters in Bloomington. The Sun Current article of February 11 quoted the City Manager as saying, “We are continuing to proceed towards implementation (of organized trash collection).”

The Bloomington City Council, City Manager, and City Attorney certainly view the drive to put organized trash collection to a vote by Bloomington residents as a lost cause.  It may not be.

There is the matter of the legal status of an earlier petition.  It requested a vote on organized trash collection before the City Council passed the ordinance.  The City rejected that, and the petition organizers challenged that rejection in court.  While a ruling had been expected in October, the judge asked for additional evidence from the city and the petitioners.   It is encouraging that the judge is giving serious consideration to citizen concerns that the Bloomington City Council dismissed so quickly.

And there is the outcome of the most recent matter that did go to a vote of the citizens of Bloomington.  City Council member Andrew Carlson voted to approve the organized trash collection ordinance in December.  This month, he was defeated in a special election for a Bloomington seat in the Minnesota House. 

We hope the message is getting through: Bloomington citizens are increasingly concerned by the unilateral actions taken by the Bloomington City Council with little public notice and no allowance for votes by the citizens.