Saturday, February 8, 2014

Can the Charter of the City of St. Louis be amended by citizen initiative?

The Charter of the City of St. Louis says "Yes."

Article V, Section 1 of the City Charter:
The people shall have power, at their option to propose ordinances, including ordinances proposing amendments to this charter, and to adopt the same at the polls, with the same effect as if adopted by the board of aldermen and approved by the mayor, such power being known as the initiative.
However, the attorneys representing those opposed to the Take Back St. Louis initiative, which if enacted would amend the City Charter, say "No." They point to an article in the Missouri Constitution that they argue precludes amending the City Charter through citizen initiative.

Article VI, Section 32(a) of the Missouri Constitution:
The charter of the city of St. Louis now existing, or as hereafter amended or revised, may be amended or revised for city or county purposes from time to time by proposals therefor submitted by the lawmaking body of the city to the qualified voters thereof, at a general or special election held at least sixty days after the publication of such proposals, and accepted by three-fifths of the qualified electors voting for or against each of said amendments or revisions so submitted.
So, the anti-Take Back St. Louis attorneys are claiming that the Missouri Constitution allows proposed City Charter amendments to originate only from the Board of Aldermen. They argue, therefore, that a citizen initiative to amend the City Charter violates the Missouri Constitution.

This is a powerful argument, because, in deciding whether to agree or disagree with it, the Bench need not delve into the thicket of conflicting policy claims. The Bench merely needs to decide whether an article of the Missouri Constitution precludes a certain process, namely citizen initiatives to amend the City Charter.

My bet is that if the Bench grants the injunction, it will be on such grounds that, as the anti-Take Back St. Louis attorneys claim, "to the extent Charter, Art. V, §1 allows Charter amendment proposals to arise from the initiative petition process; it conflicts with Mo. Const. Art. VI, §32(a) and is unconstitutional."

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