City of Eau Claire Voter Approval of Performing Arts Building Initiative (April 2014)
Administration of Government
|Not on ballot|
- 1 Text of measure
- 2 Support
- 3 Opposition
- 4 Path to the ballot
- 5 Similar measures
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 Additional reading
- 9 References
If approved, this measure would require voter approval in a city wide referendum before the city can authorize any contribution higher than $1 million to the construction of a performing arts building. The initiative, backed by the Citizen Referendum Committee, targets the proposed $50 million Confluence Project to build a new performing arts building, to which the city has pledged $5 million in subsidies. Although the approval of this initiative does not directly refer to the funding of the Confluence Project, it would necessitate voter approval before the project could continue and would trigger a referendum question on the November ballot asking voters whether or not the city should go through with the $5 million subsidy.
Another ballot measure will be on the April 1 ballot for voters throughout the entire county. This measure will ask voters directly if they approve or disapprove of a $3.5 million contribution to the Confluence project to be made by the county.
Text of measure
The descriptive title of the ordinance proposed for approval by this ballot measure is:
A Charter Ordinance enacted pursuant to the provisions of S.66.0101, Wisconsin Statutes, to require that certain building projects constructed with funds of the city or a city entity shall be submitted to referendum prior to construction.
The question on the ballot is:
Shall a charter ordinance be enacted that would require a binding referendum before $1,000,000 or more in city funds can be expended on any building construction that is planned for dramatic, musical, or artistic performances?
The summary found on the circulated petitions read as follows:
Prior to the start of any physical construction of any municipally financed (in whole or in part) project which includes a building planned for dramatic, musical, or artistic performances, requiring a capital expenditure by the City, or by any entity created by the City, of one million dollars or more, the City Council shall submit to the electorate a binding referendum for approval of the project. Failure of the binding referendum shall preclude the City of City entity from proceeding with the project. The wording of any referendum shall provide the specific purpose, location and cost of the project and an estimate of operating costs which will be provided by the City or a City entity. Nothing in this provision shall be construed to preclude the City from exercising its role in the planning or design of such publicly financed projects.
This ordinance shall be in full force and effect upon passage and publication as provided by law.
- Councilwoman Monica Lewis
- Councilman Dave Duax
Duax said, “In the end the people rule, and we have to yield to what they want."
Lewis said, “I’m going to be happy that this goes to ballot, but I think it’s sad that some people say that they hope it can be defeated in court."
Arguments in favor
Supporters of the initiative argue that the initiative will give voters an important say in large expenditures by the city and that it will help to achieve fiscal responsibility and achieve discernment in the selection of construction projects.
- Community for the Confluence
- Members of the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Student Senate
- City Councilman Eric Larsen
- Councilman Dave Klinkhammer
Critics of the initiative, especially those associated with the University of Wisconsin, have expressed concern that the initiative would inhibit the construction, rehabilitation and improvement of performing arts centers and buildings on campus. Specifically, opponents referred to facilities at Carson Park and Hobbs Ice Center, which buildings are often used to include performing arts related activities. The ordinance proposed by this measure would require voter approval of any repair or renovation on these buildings costing the city more than $1 million. Critics are also concerned that voters do not realize these far-reaching effects of a yes vote on the April referendum question.
Jake Wrasse, the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate intergovernmental affairs director, said, "We want to make sure the discussion about what this referendum could do, what it really means, has occurred. We want voters to know what they're voting on. This vote is about much more than just the Confluence."
Russel Van Gompel discusses how the referendum will affect the Confluence and other Arts projects
Eau Claire City Manager Russell Van Gompel also expressed concern over the risk of voter confusion on the issue. He said, "What people need to understand is the fact that this changes the way we approve capital projects. This is really about requiring a binding referendum for projects of $1 million or more for dramatic, musical or artistic performances. The problem is projects related to the definition of dramatic, musical or artistic performances are open to interpretation."
Van Gompel also said that approval of this measure could take decision-making power away from the City Council members and stated that he worried the law could lead to many lawsuits.
Klinkhammer said, “My objection is that it is bad law. It is confusion. It is not accurate. If it was a vote about the Confluence ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ it would make sense. That’s not what this referendum’s about, but that’s the way it was explained.”
The group Community for the Confluence put together a series of videos about the confluence project, including one of City Manager Russell Van Gompel discussing the effects this ballot measure could have on the confluence project. This video is featured on the right.
Path to the ballot
The Citizen Referendum Committee turned in signature petitions on December 26, 2013, and the petitions were certified as sufficient by the City Clerk, forcing the city council to either pass the initiative as submitted or put it to a city wide vote. The city council voted nine to one to put the proposed ordinance before the city electors instead of directly enacting it.
Other measures requiring similar voter approval before public spending on sports arena's can be approved include:
- City of Sacramento Voter approval for Public Funding of Professional Sports Arena Act, STOP Initiative (June 2014)
- City of Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nationwide Arena Bailout Initiative (May 2014)
- Notable local measures on the ballot
- April 1, 2014 ballot measures in Wisconsin
- Eau Claire County, Wisconsin ballot measures
- City of Eau Claire elections department website
- Community for the Confluence website
- The Confluence - "Like" if you want a referendum, facebook page
- Volume One, "UPDATE: City Council gives go-ahead to Confluence-related referendum," January 28, 2014
- Volume One, "Referendums at the Ready," February 6, 2014
- City of Eau Claire Elections department, "Petition text and submitted signatures", accessed January 30, 2014
- Community for the Confluence website, accessed February 20, 2014
- Leader-Telegram, "Confluence referendum wording concerns UW-EC students," January 31, 2014