No 2050 ref­er­en­dum: A le­gal view

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - ROB DEWIG rdewig@cov­news.com

An idea tossed around since the 2050 Plan was un­veiled – to sub­mit it to a voter ref­er­en­dum – just doesn’t seem pos­si­ble, at­tor­ney Jenny Carter of W M Thomas Craig At­tor­neys wrote in an opinion pre­sented to the plan’s de­sign­ers and lo­cal elected officials. Her re­port makes three points:

• “A zon­ing or­di­nance can only be adopted by the County in com­pli­ance with the Zon­ing Pro­ce­dures Law.”

• “State law does not au­tho­rize a ‘straw poll’ ref­er­en­dum prior to the adop­tion of a zon­ing or­di­nance. Since a county can­not spend funds

for a ref­er­en­dum with­out au­tho­riza­tion, lo­cal leg­is­la­tion would be needed au­tho­riz­ing the County to hold an ad­vi­sory ref­er­en­dum. • But the state con­sti­tu­tion does al­low 10 per­cent of vot­ers in a county to pe­ti­tion for a ref­er­en­dum to “amend or re­peal County or­di­nances or res­o­lu­tions.” Plus, a 1984 Ge­or­gia at­tor­ney gen­eral opinion says that process can be used for zon­ing or­di­nance. That said, “there is also a 1998 Ge­or­gia Supreme Court case that lim­its a sim­i­lar pro­ce­dure that ap­plies to cities,” and the “rea­son­ing used by the Court seems to be equally ap­pli­ca­ble to coun­ties.”

In con­clu­sion, “there may be a pro­ce­dure avail­able for a ref­er­en­dum on the amend­ment or re­peal of a zon­ing or­di­nance, but with re­spect to coun­ties the is­sue has not been ad­dressed by the courts,” she wrote.

Her pa­per was made avail­able to elected officials prior to Tues­day’s fourth pub­lic hear­ing on the plan. Op­po­nents have fre­quently called for a ref­er­en­dum on the plan.

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