Citizen initiatives: Is 90 days enough time to collect signatures? | Federal Way considers extension

After consistent pressure from a small minority of citizens, the Federal Way City Council reviewed the citizen initiative process during a Sept. 6 special meeting. The main issue revolved around the city’s existing policy of giving initiative supporters 90 days to gather the required amount of signatures, a time frame that some felt was too short.

City Attorney Pat Richardson reviewed the current process for citizens who are interested in getting a petition going in Federal Way.

“The citizen would submit the proposed language to the city clerk. The city attorney reviews the language, and if the topic is appropriate, then we would provide the language for the petition,” she said. “The language is then provided to the citizen, and that’s when the clock begins. The citizen has the petition printed and obtains the signatures.”

From there, the initiative proponents would have 90 days to gather the required signatures, which is 15 percent of the total registered voters in Federal Way, Richardson said.

“The registered voters, in 2009, according to the county, was 40,294,” she said. “15 percent of that would require 6,045 (signatures).”

Under the 90-day period, petitioners would have to gather an average of 67 signatures a day, a requirement that some citizens feel puts it out of reach right from the start. Because of this, city staff have recommended that the signature gathering period be extended to either 120 days — a move that helps the initiative timeline coincide with the general elections held each year, said Mayor Skip Priest.

“We’re basically talking about a period, let’s say from January 1 to February 15, to come to the council, to (city) staff, (to submit a petition),” he said. “It would be reviewed and by March 1, it would be approved by the city clerk. (That gives) four months, 120 days, to go out and get the necessary signatures. If those signatures were obtained, it would give plenty of time for public comment, and then the council could either accept the initiative, or put it on the ballot.”

The new time frame would allow for the necessary materials to be put together if an initiative were headed toward the ballot, Priest said. It would also ensure that the initiative would end up on the general election ballot, instead of a special election. With the city’s current financial crunch, the city wishes to avoid the cost of a special election, Priest said. According to the city, the last special election held in 2009 cost the city approximately $100,000.

Norma Blanchard, one of the citizens responsible for the council holding the Sept. 6 special meeting, said she felt 120 days was still not enough for anyone who attempts to get an initiative rolling.

“We need 180 days (the maximum amount allowed under state law),” she said. “You have the figures up there. We would need 7,000 folks’ signatures because of the fact some of them will be disqualified. You know how long it would take to get 7,000 signatures in 120 days? That ain’t cutting it. You ever been out there on the damn street gathering signatures? I doubt it!”

Jim Ferrell, one of the council members responsible for pushing for the Sept. 6 special meeting, said he felt the time frame needs to be expanded to the full 180 days, but still wanted the time frame for initiatives to coincide with the general elections as much as possible.

“A special election would essentially equate to what one police officer would be for the term of a year,” he said. “The critical issue that we need to make sure of is that the initiative process is not in name only, that it has to be a substantive right. If we could make it up to 180 days, but make it specifically oriented toward a general election, that’s where I would come at this.”

With that input in mind, Priest and the council decided to send the initiative process back to city staff, in order for them to clarify how either the 120-day time frame or 180-day time frame would work and how to make sure it aligns with the annual general elections in November.


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