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Monday, June 15, 2009

Brookings Petitioners Seek Referendum on County Parking

...can't we just park on the street... or ride our bikes to the courthouse?

Speaking local democracy, the Brookings Register (which still can't figure out how to properly format Web articles) reports that Brookings residents Gloria Kloster and Nancy Flynn are circulating petitions to refer to a public vote the decision by Brookings County to buy two houses on Fourth Street and probably bulldoze them for parking lots.

I say probably, because, as reported by Dakota War College last month, Brookings County has been formulating its plans for the lots in the Brookings Historic District under the guise of a "task force" which has been conducting closed meetings. Even fellow commissioner Dennis Falken has grumbled a little about the task force's secret operations.

The petitioners could face a legal challenge, as there is some question about whether the county's action is legislative (referrable! :-) ) or administrative (not referrable :-( ). Deputy state's attorney Mark Kratochvil and even Commission Chair Don larson seem to feel residents can refer this decision, though we'll see if they still sing that tune if the petitions come in. The bigger challenge is to beat the clock: municipal referendum petitions need to be submitted within 20 days of the decision's publication. The purchase decision hit the Brookings paper May 28; petitions with at least 969 valid signatures are therefore due at the Brookings courthouse by the close of business this Wednesday, June 17. Better hustle, ladies!

Responding to the petition drive, Commissioner Larson demonstrates an amusing inability to answer the question:

I think [the purchase is] a sound decision. My question would be, if it's bad for the county to be proactive , why aren't these citizens taking out the same petitions against the city and the university for their expansion? What's the difference between the two? What's the difference with the county being proactive and the city being proactive? [quoted by Ryan Woodard, "Citizens Challenge Commission Decision," Brookings Register, 2009.06.15]

Who says locals can't spin? Commissioner Larson goes for the classic line of painting his opponents as enemies of progress. But we don't hear the petitioners saying it's bad to be "proactive". They're saying it's bad to rip up homes in the historic district and replace them with parking lots. They're also saying that it's bad to conduct public business, proactive or otherwise, in secret meetings. (Transparency, transparency, transparency, Commissioner Larson!)

You know me: I'm all about public conversation, open meetings, and citizens taking political action. I hope the neighbors get their thousand signatures by Wednesday (don't let the rain stop you!), and I hope Brookings citizens get a vote on the use of their money and their historic neighborhood.

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