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December 11, 2018

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Boulder City residents picket City Hall over ballot initiative lawsuits

BC Protests

Dylan Scott

Boulder City Councilman Duncan McCoy, center, stops to talk with a few of the protesters demonstrating on Tuesday against the city’s decision to sue the petitioners of two ballot questions that passed in November.

Boulder City Protests

Protesters gather in front of Boulder City Hall on Tuesday to demonstrate against the city's decision to sue the petitioners of two ballot questions that passed in November. Launch slideshow »

Bubbling tension over Boulder City’s decision to sue the petitioners of several ballot questions on November’s ballot inspired about 30 residents to march on the front steps of City Hall on Tuesday.

The demonstrators held neon-colored signs that expressed their frustration. Some examples: “R.I.P. First Amendment Rights,” “Don’t Silence the People” and “Don’t Sue Me.”

“I’ve lived here since 1989, and this is the first time that I’ve been disappointed in the city,” said Terry Jensen. “Everyone should have the chance to petition. That’s the U.S. I hope this wakes the city up.”

The protest was a grassroots effort put together by about five people who met Sunday night, said Matt Ragan, one of the initial organizers. The word was spread via email and phone calls.

They had no definite goals — some sought the resignation of the City Council members who approved the lawsuits; others thought that could be taking the matter too far — but all of them agreed that they wanted to “make their voice heard,” Ragan said.

"More than 4,000 people have been disenfranchised," he said. “I’m here to protect my own vote.”

In November, the city council voted to challenge two ballot questions approved by voters by naming the petitioners as defendants in a lawsuit. One question limited the number of years the city’s appointed committee members could serve; the other required a special election if the city planned to go into debt for $1 million or more.

City Attorney Dave Olsen, in recommending the lawsuits, said they infringed on City Council’s right to make administrative decisions. The questions passed 60 percent to 40 percent and 58 percent to 42 percent, respectively.

Mayor Roger Tobler and council members Duncan McCoy and Cam Walker supported the motion, while Councilman Travis Chandler opposed it. Councilwoman Linda Strickland abstained from voting because she and her husband, Tracy Strickland, had decided to serve as the petitioners’ attorneys.

The city has since paid more than $130,000 to the law firm Lionel, Sawyer and Collins in pursuing the lawsuits, according to city records. The Stricklands filed anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) motions to dismiss, arguing that the lawsuits could have a “chilling effect” on the city’s citizens.

Both of those motions were denied in January, although Judge Susan Scrann has ordered Boulder City to “show cause” that it has not harassed the petitioners when it sued them for submitting ballot questions.

Both judges encouraged the Stricklands to appeal, expressing their reservations about the city’s actions, and they have said they will do so.

The demonstrators kept a relatively low profile during the hour-long protest, chatting with Chandler and McCoy as they entered City Hall for the council meeting and laughing amongst themselves.

Peter deBeauchamp held a sign that called Tobler “the face of tyranny” and said he believes council members who approved the lawsuits should be recalled.

“Petitioning your government is a fundamental civil right,” he said. “To try to take that away, to try to teach us a lesson through litigation, that’s tyrannical.”

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