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San Juan County Charter

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Voter approval doesn't necessarily mean Charter changes just provides potential

Passage of San Juan County Proposition #1 on the November 5 general ballot would allow citizens the right to use the initiative process to change the legislative districts.

The Charter amendments adopted in November 2012 forbid changes to the districts unless an amendment to do so is brought forth by the Charter Review Commission which meets next in 2022.

There are three rules regarding the initiative process and the Charter:

(1) No initiative shall contain more than one (1) issue.

(2) No initiative proposal requiring the expenditure of additional funds for an existing activity or of any funds for a new activity or purpose shall be filed unless provisions are specifically made therein for new or additional sources of revenue which may thereby be required.

(3) Redistricting of the County Council Residency districts shall not be subject to the initiative process. (Emphasis added)

An initiative to amend the charter is placed on the ballot after a petition is submitted to and validated by the county Auditor. The amount of signatures required is a percentage of the number of voters in a previous election. The signatures must be from registered voters. In order for a proposed amendment to become adopted, it must be approved by the voters in the General Election following the successful filing of the initiative.

The charter also bans the county Council from proposing an amendment to change the legislative districts. In March of this year, then Councilmembers Rick Peterson and Mark Forlenza brought forth a proposal to change to five equally-sized legislative districts. The three residency districts vary in size roughly from 16 to 34 to 50 percent of the county population. The council preferred to have such an amendment brought forth by the citizens through an initiative rather than have it placed on the ballot by the council.

During the discussion it was discovered that neither the council or citizens could bring forth any amendment regarding changing the districts. Their proposal was consequently dropped.

Forlenza and Peterson hadn't realized this because the language taking away the option was not in the revised Charter posted on the county's website and had been omitted when changes were first sent to the code revisor.

The new three-member council, installed in May,  voted to add Proposition #1 to the November 5 election to let voters decide if the opportunity for change through the citizen initiative process should be allowed. 

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