Would an initiative referendum ordinance help the political process in Boonville?

Dear Boonville,

In the next election, Boonville citizens will be faced with the conundrum of whether they want their roads striped in yellow or magenta.

Wait—what’s that—you don’t care?

No judgement here.

The above ballot measure is fictitious and an extreme example but still one that could be considered in a future election under the initiative referendum process proposed by the opponents of Kemper Village?Homes.

The legality of the referendum process has been debated, and I’m not here to interpret Missouri statutes, but it’s worth considering the implications of having the ability to vote on issues that would normally just go before the Boonville City Council.

If you’ve ever attended a council meeting, you probably noticed that you had plenty of room to stretch your legs out. That’s because many of the meetings cover road work, budgets, and other monotonous issues that the average Boonville citizen doesn’t care about.

Council members trust that city officials have properly prepared the ordinances, and then pass the large majority of them with unanimous consent.

Then there are the rare instances such as the approval of Kemper Village, when a deadlocked council was broken up by Mayor Julie Thacher’s vote.

The vote angered some Boonville citizens who argue the low income housing will hurt local landlords’ business and make the city less safe.

The opponents of Kemper Village did attend council meetings and voice their opinions. Council members may have just ignored their words, as opponents have said they did, or taken their thoughts into consideration and still voted in support of the project. Either way, when you have a divided vote such as the one that occurred on Kemper Village, it’s only natural that some people are going to feel dissatisfied.

Now, examine what made Thacher’s vote possible. She defeated Second Ward Councilman?Jim Painter in the April election where only 20 percent of the registered voters in Cooper County cast a ballot. Interestingly enough, Painter voted against the project.

Then there’s Third Ward Councilman Pete Soener, who retained his seat in  April  after being the only  council member to run in a contested race. He also voted to approve Kemper Village.

So had more people voted on election day, the outcome of the Kemper Village vote might have been different.

Again, that 20 percent turnout was for a mayoral election, one that occurs every four years.
It’s worse in off years. Cooper County Clerk Darryl Kempf said he has seen single digit voter turnouts in April elections.

The proposed ordinance states that the public may submit any ordinance or vote on one not passed by the city council if a petition contains the signatures of  more than 10 percent of the people who voted in the previous mayoral election.

There are 4,180 registered voters in Boonville. Based on the turnout in  April, a petition would require the signatures of about 83 voters. Not exactly an overwhelming majority.

Those proposing the referendum process or a more drastic measure of changing the city to a commission form of government may be doing so with the best of intentions. If you want my advice though, let’s give the system we have an honest try first. The election in November would be a good start.

Contact news and online editor Eric Berger by calling 882-5335 or e-mailing eric@boonville