Opponents of Longview’s red-light cameras on Wednesday unveiled an initiative petition designed to stop the city from suing its citizens for "doing initiatives" and spending public money on legal battles with petitioners.
Longview Initiative No. 2 is intended to "show city officials that their decision to sue the voters backfired," according to a letter to the City Council signed by the initiative sponsors, Longview teenager Josh Sutinen, Mukilteo initiative specialist Tim Eyman and statewide anti-traffic camera activists Nick Sherwood and Alex Rion.
The traffic camera opponents also announced Wednesday their plans to make pre-recorded "robo-calls" later that night to all registered voters in Longview informing them of Thursday’s "secret" City Council meeting — an executive session that starts an hour before the regular 7 p.m. meeting.
By law, the council may meet in closed-door executive sessions to discuss pending lawsuits.
The recording urges voters to call City Hall, and to demand both an end to the city’s lawsuits and a chance to vote on Longview Initiative No. 1, which would end automated law enforcement at stoplights and in school zones.
Sutinen, 17, and supporters of Initiative No. 2 said in a press release they will kick off their signature drive during the executive session.
Arguing that the city’s ability to set traffic laws is protected from challenge by ballot initiative, the city filed suit last month asking a judge to rule in agreement. Monday, when dismissing the camera opponents’ counter claim alleging the city filed the suit to silence its critics, Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning offered an opinion saying the city’s point of view would likely prevail in a trial.
That matter, however, has not formally come before the court yet, and the City Council is likely to decide in Thursday night’s executive session whether to pursue its case, thus preventing Initiative No. 1 from ever coming before voters.
The council already has approved a public advisory vote for November’s ballot regarding whether to keep the cameras after the pilot program ends in May.
The county elections office certified on Friday that the legal minimum of 3,235 valid signatures had been collected in support of Initiative No. 1. Sutinen and his father, Tim Sutinen, were the driving force behind that petition effort, and now the younger Sutinen has vowed to tackle Initiative No. 2 with the same zeal.
As for the legality of Initiative No. 2, its wording "sounds very questionable" to a former staff lawyer for the House local government committee who authored "A Complete Reference Guide to Local Governments in Washington State."
"The city has some rights, and one of them is to defend itself in court," Steve Lundin of Olympia said Wednesday.
Asked whether the petition was merely a lobbying tactic to exert pressure on the city in the ongoing battle over traffic cameras, Eyman said no, it was a legitimate initiative and that nothing is wrong with voters directing how tax money should be used.
"This is full steam ahead, 100 percent serious, exceptionally good policy and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time," Eyman said Wednesday. "It’s absolutely lobbying, too."