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Whitefish Bay board sends Citizens United question to referendum

Trustees question cost, efficacy

Sept. 17, 2013

Whitefish Bay — In spring 2014 voters will have the chance to weigh in on the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United ruling after elected officials on Monday begrudgingly approved a referendum on the matter.

After a 60-day petition drive, local progressive group Grassroots Northshore and state progressive group United Wisconsin in late-August turned in a 1,246 signature petition that outlined a referendum calling for a reversal of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. The two groups claimed the ruling "granted corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections."

The Village Board on Monday had the choice of approving the referendum language immediately and putting a resolution on the books critical of the court ruling, or sending the referendum to voters in the spring. Discussion centered on whether the referendum is worth its cost in printing and staff time, estimated by clerk Kayla Chadwick to be "a couple thousand dollars," since the referendum is advisory only and isn't binding on any governmental body.

Trustee Carl Fuda called it a "hoo-hah" referendum and a waste.

"I'd prefer to save the money, guys," Fuda said. "This has no practical impact on anything...Can you ask (petition organizers) if they have the $2,000?"

Though other trustees similarly questioned the cost and efficacy of the referendum, they said it isn't the place of a nonpartisan board to take political action and shot down Fuda's suggestion that the village create an ordinance to automatically pass similar petition resolutions to prevent any village spending.

"This is what democracy is all about," Trustee Brenda Szumski said. "Whether we agree with the resolution or not, the village is responsible for carrying it out."

The motion to hold the spring referendum passed on a 5-2 vote, with Fuda and Village President Julie Siegel voting against it.

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