During the Wednesday, Oct. 17 Troy City Council meeting, members of the public raised concerns over the wording in the explanation of a ballot question regarding the sale of 7,500 square feet of Second Street in Troy to Town Pump.
By that day, ballots were printed and absentee votes had been cast.
The ballot question presented to voters gives two options to choose between: “FOR selling 7500 square feet of Second Street, a dedicated public street, abutting Missoula Avenue per City of Troy Resolution 2018-753,” and “AGAINST selling 7500 square feet of Second Street, a dedicated public street, abutting Missoula Avenue per City of Troy Resolution 2018-753.”
But a group of local voters have objected to the wording of the explanation that accompanies the ballot questions.
The objection stands on two words in the first sentence of the explanation: “has sold.”
The full sentence reads, “Subject to voter approval, the Troy City Council has sold 7500 sq. feet, of Second Street to Troy Town Pump, Inc., in exchange for removal and replacement of 340’ of Spokane Avenue Sidewalk valued at $15,000.”
Some proposed the wording could cause voters to cast a “for” vote, believing the matter was already settled.
The controversy over Second Street originated with Town Pump’s proposal to make the southern area of the street between properties they own into part of their parking lot. The Town Pump store would expand, stretching about to the middle of what is now Second Street.
Town Pump would continue to allow traffic to pass through between Second Street and Highway 2, Dan Sampson Town Pump project manager, said in February.
All of the pumps and fuel tanks would be located across Second Street, according to a draft plan.
While they could place the store on one side and the pumps on the other, it would then require customers to cross the street, increasing the likelihood of an accident involving a pedestrian, Sampson said.
After considering the cost of a special election — a public vote being necessary since Second Street was dedicated to the public trust — the council decided at their May 23 meeting to request that Lincoln County place it on the November ballot.
The council tabled a ballot resolution vote at their June 20 meeting, as they were still awaiting a resolution from Troy City Attorney Cliff Hayden.
At their July 18 regular meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution to place the question on the ballot, with the contingency that Hayden first add wording to the ballot explanation.
Troy Mayor Dallas Carr said that Hayden told him two days prior that the council needed to have a dollar amount in the resolution.
Carr said there had been no prior discussion with Town Pump over a sale price.
After Hayden told him of the need for a dollar amount, Carr said he contacted Sampson. They arrived at $60,000 as the most likely amount Town Pump would agree to.
As agreed in the July 18 meeting, the council called a special meeting held on July 31, at which time they finalized Resolution Number 2018-753 and passed a sale agreement that would go into effect if voters approve the sale.
Paragraph six of the sale agreement expressly states that the sale is contingent on council and voter approval.
While Hayden presented a version of the ballot to the city, which was shown to council members, the council members agreed Oct. 17 that they had not seen a version with “has sold.”
Council member Chuck Ekstedt said, “The wording’s wrong.”
Second Street resident Rick White said he was concerned the wording would make it impossible to get an honest vote.
Council member Crystal Denton said she understood what the question meant after a couple times reading it. “I can see where people would get hung up on it.”
Council Member TJ Boswell asked those who raised objections whether they would protest if the sale is voted down.
Though there was no clear answer to Boswell’s question, several minutes later as the meeting wound down, Celeste White said that her objection went beyond the sale of Second Street.
“It’s not Second Street. It’s not anything else. It’s transparency,” she said. “If it doesn’t pass, ‘Yay, I got what I wanted,’ but it needs done over. It needs done correctly.”
During the Oct. 17 meeting, Denton noted that the ballot had been reviewed multiple times by lawyers, and that no one in the room was a lawyer.
The council tried to contact Hayden during the meeting, but was unable to.
After the meeting, Hayden revealed that he had a family emergency, Carr said.
During an Oct. 22 phone interview, Carr said that he had spoken to Hayden, and Hayden did not anticipate a legal challenge to the validity of the ballot would be successful.
Hayden told Carr that he felt the wording was satisfactory.
In an Oct. 19 interview, Lincoln County Election Administrator Leigh Riggleman said that she had not been approached by anyone from the city of Troy since the Oct. 17 meeting.
She said that she had received “very few” phone calls from other individuals asking about the wording of the Second Street ballot explanation.
Riggleman said that, with a ballot issue that has been drafted by an attorney, she is not going to recommend changes such as verb tense.
“I tend to have a hands-off approach when it come from the attorney, and the resolution that has been signed by the city council,” she said.
Riggleman said that she looks to see that the ballot issue comes to her in the form that has been approved by the attorney and the governing body involved.
“I tend not to touch wording if I possibly can,” she said.
Though it is too late to change the ballot, the city could put out a clarification to the public, she said. However, any attempt to inform voters would still have to occur at least 100 feet from a polling place.