A good fight for library but deal is done | Our view
March 22, 2012 · Updated 1:53 PM
City Attorney Larry Warren makes a compelling legal argument that an initiative to keep the downtown library where it is over the Cedar River is illegal, which by the way is not the same as criminal.
But a legal opinion sometimes runs head-long into politics, resulting in an outcome that won’t satisfy anyone and could lead to protracted visits to a courtroom.
Mid-week, there was still no word whether proponents of keeping the library over the Cedar River had collected enough additional signatures to validate the initiative. Either way, it’s still important to consider again how we got here and what is an appropriate way to move forward.
It was in February 2010 that Renton’s voters opted, by a slim 53 votes, to annex to the King County Library System. Not a ringing endorsement, but a sensible one, given the dire financial straits the City of Renton was – and is – in.
But that slim majority emboldened the losing side and made it harder to convincingly argue that annexing to KCLS was the will of the people.
Still majority rules, even if it’s just by one vote. And just as importantly the city administration was then obligated, legally, to carry out the public’s wishes and negotiate the transition to KCLS and the details of building two new libraries in new locations.
The City Council then in a number of votes, not always unanimous, made the political decisions to bring us where we are today: a shiny new library in the Highlands and a controversial one near the Piazza.
And, now, the city is legally obligated to carry out the decisions of the City Council. It’s not possible, at least practically, to un-negotiate the agreement with KCLS. And it’s important to remember that the city – its taxpayers – are obligated to pay back those $18 million or so in bonds, even if a library isn’t built downtown.
It’s possible we could have been at a different spot today. We think the decision easily could have gone the other way in February 2010, if more than just 30 percent of Renton’s voters had turned out.
Perhaps if the library proponents had chosen to use a referendum, rather than an initiative, the council’s action could have been reversed. But a referendum must be filed within 30 days of when an action is taken; an initiative is not the legally appropriate way to make law, at least in a city.
Proponents may argue they aren’t legal experts, which is not a knock against them. But if you want to make profound change, make sure you have good legal advice and act in a timely manner. Warren makes other logical points, most of which point to a poorly written or ill-conceived initiative. A legal precedent set in Bellevue deals it a body blow.
Tough decisions were made and it is hard to give up the much-beloved library over the river. The Citizens for the Preservation of Renton’s Cedar River Library made a valiant effort and may yet have their initiative certified, although that’s not the same as final victory.
Renton leaders clapped loudly when Mayor Denis Law mentioned the downtown library in his State of the City .
We know it rankles the proponents when someone says “what’s done is done.” We believe that the “done” is cast in legal stone, if not political stone.
But time will tell.