Questions surface over where signatures for trash-district petition must be collected

Law firm offers free legal service to subdivisions wishing to opt out of districts

By BURKE WASSON

As a south county citizens group is trying to gather enough signatures to place the issue of trash districts in unincorporated areas on a countywide ballot, questions have surfaced concerning where those signatures must be collected.

Make Your Opinion Count LLC is working for an initiative petition that seeks to not only eliminate planned trash districts, but also strike the county’s newly enacted minimum standards of once-per-week pickup of trash, once-per-week pickup of recyclables and twice-per-year pickup of bulk waste.

Those new countywide minimum standards went into effect Jan. 1.

Many south county residents have opposed trash districts for almost a year largely because the districts would remove unincorporated residents’ ability to choose their own waste hauler in favor of a system in which the County Council would award bids to one waste hauler in each of eight districts.

To successfully place a petition initiative on a countywide ballot, Section 9.020 of the County Charter states a group must gather the signatures of “qualified voters equal in number to at least 5 percent of the total vote cast for governor in each of two-thirds of the council districts at the last election at which a governor was chosen.”

The group would need to obtain a minimum of 18,440 signatures, according to figures from the county Board of Election Commissioners.

But the question of whether those signatures need to be obtained in five of the seven County Council districts — two-thirds of those districts — or be “equal in number” to the approximation of 5 percent of the people who voted in the 2004 governor’s election in the five lowest-voting County Council districts remains unanswered.

County spokesman Mac Scott said county officials are directing questions concerning signatures for the petition to the Board of Election Commissioners.

The election board’s legal counsel, Steve Garrett, did not respond to several calls made by this newspaper before press time.

Tony Niskanen, president of Make Your Opinion Count LLC, has said he was told by the county election board that his group does not need to obtain signatures in more than one County Council district, but must have the number of signatures equal to 5 percent of people of who voted in five of the seven County Council districts in the 2004 governor’s election.

However, based on his skepticism of county government, local attorney Jerry Wamser — who is providing legal representation for the group Citizens Against Trashy Government — is advising that Niskanen’s group collect signatures in five County Council districts.

“I think the conclusion is as an excess of caution, you try to go for the five of seven,” he said. “Don’t give them (county officials) a reason to dunce around.”

To follow through on Wamser’s recommendation, Make Your Opinion Count would have to complete five of the following seven requirements: 3,231 signatures in the 1st District; 3,434 signatures in the 2nd District; 4,401 signatures in the 3rd District; 3,653 signatures in the 4th District; 4,236 signatures in the 5th District; 3,887 signatures in the 6th District and 4,235 signatures in the 7th District.

As for the trash districts, which county officials plan to implement by September in unincorporated areas, Wamser’s law firm is offering free legal representation to subdivisions that wish to opt out of those districts.

A subdivision that wishes to opt out and employ the services of a waste hauler of their choosing has until Feb. 1 to petition the county. To opt out of a trash district, subdivisions are required to have an active form of governance, follow the provisions of that governance in their petition, gather a simple majority of homeowners opposed to the districts and provide for the new minimum levels of trash service.

“The only thing we’re trying to do is make sure they’ve got things in good order …,” Wamser said. “It’s so that there’s a reasonable footing to be able to opt out to the extent that the whole crazy program has an opt-out.”

Subdivision representatives can contact Wamser’s law firm at (314) 729-0272.

Those who wish to contact Make Your Opinion Count about its petition drive can call (314) 352-6300 or send an e-mail to opinionsllc@sbcglobal.net.