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Members of the local political watchdog group Eye on Sacramento filed a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court Thursday seeking a court order compelling City Clerk Shirley Concolino to accept their ballot argument opposing the tax increase measure on the November ballot.
The suit, filed by EOS board members Craig Powell, Greg Hatfield and Erik Smitt, claims that, when Mayor Kevin Johnson failed to submit an opposing ballot argument before the deadline, members of the public should have been allowed to submit their own ballot arguments.
“No one dreamed that the Mayor might fail to discharge his official duty to submit an argument against Measure U," Powell said in a press release Friday.
Steve Maviglio, Johnson’s 2012 campaign manager, said in an email Friday that an opposing ballot argument was submitted by the mayor’s office, but it was late because of confusion over deadlines.
“The clerk established two deadlines: one for the charter commission and another for ballot measures,” Maviglio said in the email. “It was a simple mistake by staff that confused the two deadlines, resulting in the argument being turned in hours past the deadline.”
Johnson was tasked with writing the ballot argument – at his request – at the July 31 City Council meeting. Johnson had until the Aug. 9 deadline to turn in the written argument opposing the measure, but missed that deadline.
City councilmen Steve Cohn, Kevin McCarty and Darrell Fong were assigned the supporting ballot argument, which was submitted before the deadline and will be included in Nov. 6 sample ballot materials, according to the city clerk’s elections website.
Under state law, a council member’s ballot arguments get priority over all other arguments in sample ballot materials, according to Powell. Election officials must include that council member's argument in sample ballots and reject all other arguments submitted by the public sharing the same position, he said.
In light of state law and Johnson’s decision to write the ballot argument opposing the tax measure, Powell said members of the public who had worked on their own ballot arguments – Eye on Sacramento included – halted their efforts and didn’t submit any statements.
Once the deadline to file ballot arguments passed and there was no opposing argument, however, Powell said he and others “pleaded with the city clerk” to extend the filing deadline. The lawsuit was filed, Powell said, in response to the request for filing extension being denied.
"If this city official's decision blocking access to the ballot is allowed to stand, Sacramento voters will be unjustly cheated out of their basic democratic right to weigh both the ‘pro’ and ‘con’ arguments on the city's own proposal to raise sales taxes," Powell said.
Calls and emails to the mayor’s office and the city clerk’s office for comment were not returned.
All of the Nov. 6 ballot measures can be found on the City Clerk's Elections website.
Here is the full text of the Eye on Sacramento lawsuit filed Thursday:
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