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E-Verify ballot language scrutinized

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City beat from the Nov. 14 City Council meeting - for minutes and schedule, visit springfieldmo.gov/citycouncil
At the Nov. 14 Springfield City Council meeting, citizens debated the language of a potential ballot item that would require Springfield businesses to use the free federal E-Verify employment eligibility software or face penalties. Council is expected to approve one of three versions of the ballot question at its Nov. 28 meeting before the issue is presented to voters Feb. 7.

The deadline to approve the ballot language for the February election is Nov. 29.
On Sept. 6, a split council did not approve the initiative petition as an ordinance, a move that puts the measure before voters.

Ozarks Minutemen petition organizers Joe Wilson and Jerry Long said that failing to include the word “businesses” in the two most recent versions of the ballot was misleading to voters. In the Substitute 1 and Substitute 2 versions, the definition of businesses has been spelled out, which Wilson and Long said could lead voters to believe that residents who wanted to hire individuals to mow their lawns would have to use the E-Verify system.

Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky took issue with their criticism of the more detailed drafts.

“Doesn’t the misleading part of the ballot come from your initiative petition?” Rushefsky asked, adding that the newer versions pull from the group’s own definition of businesses.

Long and Wilson acknowledged their group’s petition had flaws, including asking the city to include penalties against businesses who don’t use E-Verify, an action the city’s legal staff doesn’t believe is enforceable. But now that the measure is heading to voters, Wilson said he wants the ballot language to be clear and consistent with the petition’s intent.

Assistant City Attorney Marianne Banks said the city is obligated to accurately summarize the petition that registered voters signed, regardless of whether the document has flaws or is enforceable.

In the Substitute 2 version, a line was added stating that the cost to the city would be unknown. Former council candidate Fred Ellison, a supporter of the ordinance, said adding that sentence was unfair because such language wasn’t included in the smoking ordinance or alcohol-in-theater ballot questions, two voter initiatives approved earlier this year.

“You’re trying to impose something on this particular ordinance that wasn’t required of the other two petitions,” Ellison said.

Rushefsky countered that it was a good practice to include information about cost on such issues, regardless of whether it had been done previously. Two other speakers said information about costs was important to share with voters.

In September, it appeared that council would approve the mandated use of the federal employment verification system and then revise it to prevent potential lawsuits, but Mayor Jim O’Neal changed his mind and voted against the ordinance, saying he wanted voters to weigh in on the issue.

Proponents argue that the free verification system would help prevent illegal hires inside city limits. Opponents say the requirements place an undue burden on businesses and do nothing to address the root problem of illegal immigration.

On Nov. 14, several amendments to the three ballot versions added language related to affected businesses and the definition of work. The three bills are scheduled to receive second readings Nov. 28.

Hotel near St. John’s
With no discussion following second readings, council unanimously approved a pair of bills to rezone 1.37 acres across from St. John’s Hospital and change the floor-area ratio restrictions to allow for a five-story hotel at the southwest corner of East Cherokee Street and South National Avenue.

After the meeting, landowner Terry Reynolds of real estate company C. Arch Bay said the site would be leased to developers, whom she declined to name.

“C. Arch Bay will be leasing the land to developers who are going to apply for a flagship, and then they will develop the hotel,” Reynolds said, noting the group would like to build a 110-room property. The hotel flag and designs are expected to finalize in a few months, she said.

At an October council meeting, Derek Lee of Lee Engineering & Associates LLC said Reynolds purchased two homes on East Cherokee Street and made other concessions to alleviate neighbors’ concerns about the hotel.

At last month’s meeting, council members applauded the efforts by C. Arch Bay to work with nearby residents. No members of the public spoke out against the plans at that meeting.

Reynolds said she is negotiating for a new location for the land’s one commercial tenant, 30-year-old interior design firm Touché Design Group. Touché Design’s current lease runs through August 2013.[[In-content Ad]]

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