Light rail fight fizzles at Vancouver council meeting

Topic could not be discussed since it was not on agenda

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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A valuable lesson was learned Monday: Before announcing a public fight with the Vancouver City Council, check the meeting agenda.

What was billed by light rail opponent Debbie Peterson as a "Clash of the Titans," turned out to be nothing on Monday, because it was not one of the twice-monthly meetings that concludes with a citizens' forum. During the forums, people can talk for three minutes about whatever they want.

The "citizen communications" portion of Monday's meeting, which was clearly defined on the agenda, was only for people who wanted to comment on items on the council's agenda.

What was on the agenda? Reappointments of hearings examiners, a street vacation and the first reading of an ordinance relating to animal control.

What wasn't on the agenda? The Columbia River Crossing or the failed petition that Peterson's group wants the council to accept.

Peterson and other light rail opponents worked for more than two years to gather enough signatures to petition the council for a public vote on light rail.

In April 2012, they were told their effort failed. But under the Vancouver city charter, they were given extra time to collect additional signatures.

Last month, they learned their petition fell 32 signatures short of the 5,472-signature requirement.

More than 8,000 signatures were tossed, including all those from people who signed the petition multiple times.

Voters would have decided on a proposed ordinance that would have prohibited any city resources from being used to extend TriMet's MAX line from Portland to Vancouver.

The Clark County Auditor's Office rejected duplicate signatures based on state law governing city petitions. It says "signatures, including the original, of any person who has signed a petition two or more times shall be stricken."

Petitioners argue that state law isn't valid because it's in conflict with a 1977 Washington Supreme Court decision that says the name should count once. But that ruling was in response to a different state law governing the state petition process.

No 'Clash of the Titans'

Over the weekend, emails circulated promising a "Clash of the Titans," during which the city council would be threatened with a lawsuit if it didn't agree to put the proposed ordinance on the ballot.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt received the emails, and said before citizen communications that Monday was not the day to talk about nonagenda items.

Petitioners are regulars at city council meetings, he added, and should know the schedule.

Larry Patella commented on an agenda item, then broached the CRC.

"We'll certainly welcome you back next week at the citizens' forum," Leavitt said.

Peterson took to the mic and made her case for the petition, ignoring Leavitt as he said, "Please, Ms. Peterson, I laid out the rules," and repeated, "thank you."

Ralph Peabody signed up to speak, but he told Leavitt he'll return next week.

Meanwhile, legislators have taken action.

State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, has asked the state attorney general's office to provide an informal opinion on the issue of duplicate signatures, and Senate Bill 5505, introduced by Pam Roach, R-Auburn, proposes current law be changed to make the original signature count.

Stevie Mathieu contributed to this story.