Women sue Poplar Bluff on Internet access petition

Monday, December 19, 2011

Two women have filed a lawsuit against the city of Poplar Bluff and City Clerk Pamela Kearbey concerning the number of signatures on an open access petition.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court at Cape Girardeau on behalf of registered voters of the city of Poplar Bluff who signed an initiative petition that Kearbey has refused to certify, an ACLU news release said.

Barbara Rexroat and Katherine Carda, who both signed the petition, filed the suit on their own behalf and on behalf of the class of at least 2,898 other registered voters who signed the petition.

The suit alleges that Missouri law gives citizens the right to an initiative petition that allows voters to decide whether to enact proposed ordinances. Under state law, proponents were required to submit the signatures of 831 registered voters.

Although Kearbey determined the initiative petition contained more than three times that number of valid signatures, she refused to certify the petition. The suit alleges Kearbey arbitrarily imposed a different signature requirement.

"Despite letters and phone calls, Poplar Bluff has refused to inform us how they settled on the arbitrary standard they are applying to the initiative petition," said Brenda Jones, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. "The right of voters to propose laws is at the core of democracy. Poplar Bluff's refusal to allow its citizens to vote is unacceptable."

According to the lawsuit, voters who signed the petition have been deprived of the initiative process without due process and in violation of state law.

Brian Becker, owner of semo.net, started the petition drive after the Poplar Bluff City Council terminated on May 9 its policy to provide open access to the city's broadband communication system. He submitted the petition Nov. 7 and an amended petition Nov. 28.

On Nov. 17, City Attorney Wally Duncan submitted a letter to Becker that indicated state law requires the signatures of 25 percent of the registered voters in Poplar Bluff to sign a petition before an issue can be placed on the ballot. Duncan said 25 percent of the 12,544 registered voters in Poplar Bluff on Nov. 10 would mean 3,136 signatures are required.

Kearbey determined Becker submitted 1,877 valid signatures Nov. 7 and 2,900 valid signatures on an amended petition Nov. 28.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU contends state law requires signatures equal to 25 percent of the votes cast for all candidates for mayor at the last election.

Since Poplar Bluff operates under the council-manager form of government and the council elects the mayor, the number of signatures required is the number of voters voting for council candidates at the most recent elections.

The ACLU determined 3,324 votes were cast for the seven council members. Therefore, 25 percent of 3,324 would mean 831 signatures are required.

On Nov. 18, Becker filed a lawsuit in Butler County Circuit Court, asking a judge to decide if he submitted enough valid signatures the first time.

"I dropped my lawsuit with the city regarding the petition since Barb and Kaye are represented by the ACLU now," Becker said Saturday. "I'm not connected with that case, but the goal was to get this on the ballot and I believe they will be successful."

City officials do not want to comment until they have seen the lawsuit.

Pertinent address:

Poplar Bluff, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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