Kalispell council kills airport referendum
By TOM LOTSHAW/Daily Inter Lake | Posted: Monday, July 2, 2012 10:13 pm
An airport referendum that was approved by the Kalispell City Council and nearly set for November’s general election was killed Monday. That takes the question of what to do with the city’s airport out of the hands of voters and puts it back before the council.
Council member Wayne Saverud, the swing vote to approve the airport referendum 5-4 back on May 21, was again the swing vote to repeal it 5-4.
Saverud called the airport referendum a “premature” outcome, and pointed to his initial request back in May to table the airport question and allow for more research and deliberation.
That request to table failed without a second among council members who had decided to press ahead to reach an airport decision without holding a workshop to share and discuss their views beforehand.
Saverud said he and others were later surprised by the estimated $10,000 cost for the referendum and state laws that limit ballot language to a 100-word preface and two 25-word options.
“This issue is much too complex to distill into so few words … If we employed the typical process and studied this in a workshop we might have avoided this predicament, but we didn’t,” Saverud said.
“A number of residents have said they will be pleased to vote. As many or more have told me it will be difficult or impossible [for voters] to make a decision … After much deliberation, my support of the motion to send this to the ballot was premature and I will support a motion to rescind.”
The vote to repeal the referendum also was supported by council members Jim Atkinson, Randy Kenyon, Jeff Zauner and Kari Gabriel.
It was opposed by Mayor Tammi Fisher and council members Tim Kluesner, Phil Guiffrida III and Bob Hafferman, all of whom had supported the referendum back in May and continued to support it Monday.
“I will not take away any citizen’s right to vote on this issue. This is their property and they have a right to be heard,” Guiffrida said, calling some council members’ comments against the referendum at a work session one week ago “nothing short of rude and demeaning to our citizens.”
Kenyon said his concern about the referendum is not that voters are uninformed or incapable of deciding the issue, but that it would spur a campaign battle fueled largely by misinformation and rhetoric, not real issues.
“I agree that putting this issue in 50 words is unreasonable,” Kenyon said.
Kenyon added that a motion to put the airport on the ballot, as offered in May, was a “last-minute gamble” by Fisher and the others.
“In all the weeks and years we’ve talked about this, we’ve never had even one discussion about putting this on the ballot until that last possible moment. I think that was unreasonable and unfair to the public and to the council,” Kenyon said.
The same question of what to do with Kalispell City Airport now returns before the council, likely in mid-July.
A proposed resolution would have council members choose between an upgrade and expansion to B-II design standards using a mix of local taxpayer funds and mostly federal Airport Improvement Program funds, as recommended in the latest airport master plan update, or an upgrade and expansion to B-I design standards with only local taxpayer funds.
Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw.
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