Some Inyo County citizens have grown so disturbed by the Inyo Supervisors’ habit of secrecy over major issues that they have gone to a ballot initiative to force issues out in the open. Now, the County has sued those citizens.
Last Thursday, Inyo County filed a lawsuit against the individuals at work to force $5 million county projects to a vote of the people. Inyo County Counsel Randy Keller said he believes the measure violates both U.S. and California Constitutions. He has refused to write a ballot title and summary and wants the superior court to determine the constitutionality issue first.
The County lawsuit asks for a judgment on the constitutionality of the measure and relief for the County Counsel’s duty to prepare a title and summary for the proposed initiative. This lawsuit names Jenifer Castaneda, Mary Roper, James Bilyeu, Judy Fowler and Kenneth Lloyd, all of whom signed the notice of intent to circulate a petition to place their measure on the ballot. A hearing is now set for Friday, August 19th.
In a statement released after the County filed its suit, Mary Roper describes citizen frustrations over the lack of public input into the decision about the location of the new state court building. On top of that, Roper and others began to notice all of the closed sessions over plans for a mega county office center in Bishop with what they say has been no public discussion.
Roper says that the law allows closed sessions on real property negotiations over price and terms of payment, but Roper and others strongly feel that the public was entitled to details of this large project before the Supervisors forged ahead with secret deals.
Roper’s statement says, “A group of us decided that we would go forward with this Citizens Initiative in order to ensure that the consolidated office building plans and costs were fully and completely discussed before the taxpayers are committed to more debt in these uncertain economic times.”
The statement calls for a complete and public analysis of this project. Roper goes on to say that she believes County Counsel Keller’s failure to write a ballot title and summary by the August 9th deadline is “in violation of a Supreme Court decision and is delaying the Initiative process.”
County Counsel Keller’s lawsuit points to state laws that govern public works projects and the bidding and contract procedure. To inject a vote of the people, he believes, would violate the law. Keller has similar concerns regarding bond issues and leases.
Roper concludes by saying that “Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s hearing, the concerns and frustrations of the citizens of Inyo County regarding what is being discussed in closed session by our public servants must be acknowledged. The excesses of government spending,” she write, “have contributed to these economic hard times. None of us will know if this decision to build a new consolidated county office center is supportable without knowing all the details. So far those details,” says Roper, “have been cloaked in secrecy.”