NORTH LIBERTY– It’s not exactly a remake of 2007, but the storyline is very similar.
A petition has been circulating within North Liberty to force a vote for a new form of representation within the city government.
The document calls for the council to hold a vote on whether or not to change to a ward system of representation. Under this plan, North Liberty would be split into equal-population wards, and the registered voters in each ward would elect one resident from that ward to serve on the city council.
A similar petition forced a special election in June 2007, when some citizens were calling for a Council-Manager-Ward system of government (different in that there would have been four council members elected from designated wards, two council members elected at-large, and an elected mayor who would be a voting member of the council). That measure was defeated by 77.8 percent of the 785 citizens who voted. The 2007 petition was initiated by residents who were unhappy about tumultuous relationships among and between the city’s governing body and administration at the time. They sought a ward system to provide a more balanced representation of citizen viewpoints, and ensure a more efficient, non-political government for North Liberty.
Today’s organizers, still pushing for a ward system, are reading from a comparable script.
Petitioners say that North Liberty’s population boom warrants council representation from all parts of the growing city– long-established neighborhoods, new residential and commercial developments and existing business districts alike.
A map of five potential wards depicted on the petition coincide with a hypothetical scenario for equal-population precincts drawn up earlier this spring, a first step in the city’s process of adding more voting precincts in town.
In response to the city’s population growth recorded by the 2010 census, North Liberty is required to add more voting precincts, as state law requires precincts to be no larger than 3,500 people. Though North Liberty may be assisted by the Johnson County Auditor’s office in drawing up its new voting precincts, the city has the final say over its precinct boundaries, and must approve a plan by the state’s required deadline of Sept. 1, 2011.
As of yet, the North Liberty City Council has not yet discussed any precinct boundary proposals, including those depicted on the draft map reproduced on the petition; if voters approve a change to ward representation, the city will have to abide by rigorous population requirements and statutes set by the Iowa code to create council wards.
A petition for a new method of government representation requires the signatures of 10 percent of the number of voters in the last regular city election of November 2009; in this case, just 52 valid signatures. In that election, North Liberty’s turnout of 515– just 6.55 percent of its registered voters– was the third lowest turnout of all Johnson County cities, falling above only Shueyville (6.41 percent) and Solon (4.34 percent), with the ballots in both of those communities comprised of uncontested races.
Petitioners were expected to turn over the new petition during the regular meeting of the North Liberty City Council on Tuesday, May 24, subsequent to the publication of this newspaper. Upon receipt, the city clerk will be required to determine whether it contains the proper number of valid signatures.
If the petition is deemed valid, the city must file the petition with the Johnson County Auditor at least 46 days prior to the date they select for a special election. According to state law, the next possible date for a special election would be August 2, 2011.
If a special election returns a favorable vote for the new form of government – by majority vote, or 50 percent plus one– all five of North Liberty’s current city council members and the mayor would be up for re-election at the next subsequent city general election.
Until then, it will be up to signatories and voters to determine if the city will see a revised cast of characters in its council chambers in 2012.