Manny Crisostomo /

The Sacramento County elections office has completed its count of petitions for a June ballot measure sought by foes of a city arena subsidy.

Editorial: As arena ballot fight intensifies, public’s right to know matters even more

Published: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 - 12:00 am

The numbers are in, but an arena ballot measure is not a done deal. Whatever your position on the arena, we should all want full transparency as this fight plays itself out.

According to the final count released Thursday afternoon by the Sacramento County Elections Office, 22,938 valid signatures have been submitted, enough to qualify the measure for June.

Now the ball is squarely in the court of City Clerk Shirley Concolino, who must decide whether the different versions of the petitions comply with state election law and the city charter. She will determine whether any wording differences are inconsequential, as the ballot measure’s proponents insist – or whether some variations are so significant that those petitions and their signatures should be disqualified, as pro-arena groups say.

She told The Bee’s editorial board that she could deliver her judgment as soon as today.

There is some cushion – petitions containing as many as 912 names could be thrown out and there would still be enough valid signatures. County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine told the editorial board she does not plan to publicly release how many signatures were on each different version.

It should surprise no one that whatever Concolino decides, this matter almost certainly is going to court. The eventual ruling would determine whether the measure will go before voters on June 3.

Everyone should keep in mind that the possible ballot measure wouldn’t be specifically about the arena. Rather, it is a much broader initiative to require a public vote on any financing for any professional sports facility that impacts the city’s general fund.

If it were to pass, there would be a second public vote in November on the city’s arena financing plan, which calls for a subsidy of at least $258 million toward the $448 million downtown arena. Arena supporters, however, say that just the June vote could throw the arena project off schedule to open in September 2016 and possibly jeopardize the NBA’s commitment to Sacramento, which goes through 2017.

Now that the count is in, it appears that whatever the flaws in the proponents’ petition drive, they did better than the pro-arena group that collected signatures of voters who wanted to withdraw their names. While 65 percent of the signatures submitted by anti-subsidy forces were found valid, only 15 percent of the withdrawal requests from county voters were verified. If all 15,000 withdrawal requests submitted are factored in, the validation rate is closer to 9 percent.

Still, if those 1,444 signatures had not been withdrawn, proponents would have a substantially bigger buffer in case any petitions are rejected.

In a statement last week, Concolino indicated she would closely scrutinize the petitions for any problems. She declared that she has “the responsibility and sole authority to accept or reject petitions” based on the state and city election codes. In a way, she has less pressure because whatever she decides will likely be appealed.

Concolino still has the obligation, however, to be transparent. While she says the petitions are not public record, when she issues her decision, she owes it to the public to disclose as much as possible about why she ruled as she did on each petition.

If details are kept murky, that will only deepen divisions in the community. Neither side in the arena debate should want that.

Editor’s note: This editorial was changed to clarify that while 1,444 of 9,773 withdrawal requests from county registered voters were verified, a total of about 15,000 withdrawal requests were submitted.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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