City Government

Citizen Authority Could Increase

The Idaho Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case which has the potential of allowing citizens the ability to force local government to follow the law.

A group of Canyon County property owners were not allowed “standing”–the right to sue or be part of a court case– when they tried to stop the Canyon Commishes from going into long term debt without a vote of the people. The issue was over purchase of a farm for a potential law enforcement and jail facility.

A 3rd District Court judge ruled the group could not bring their action (which claimed the purchase was a violation of the Idaho Constitution) because they did not have a “unique injury.” Any injury would be suffered by all citizens at the same rate. Hence, standing was denied.

In the Wednesday session before the Supremes, the Canyon County attorney argued that no citizen has a right to question (in court) the actions of any elected body–even if the actions are unconstitutional and illegal. He said the ballot box was the only remedy for citizens.

Chief Justice Daniel Eismann seemed to make the case for the taxpayers when he reasoned that if citizens did NOT have standing, most of the 20 odd cases argued over the past 100 years on the long term debt issue should not have been heard by the court. His argument reasoned that standing existed in all those cases, why not in the Canyon case?

Idaho’s constitution prohibits debt in excess of a single year’s revenues without permission of citizens.

This case is important because if standing is granted, local officials will not be able to act with impunity in the future. They could be challenged in court under the normal civil process. City councilors and county commishes dread having citizens questioning their authority.

If the Supremes rule in favor of standing, it will make it a lot more difficult for locals to ignore the citizens. If the Supremes uphold the lower court, it will reenforce case law which argues elected officials would never be able to make decisions if the people could take them to court. Of course the other side argues if citizens are denied the right to sue, officials can act with impunity since no one can stop their illegal actions.

Frequent references were made to the court’s decision in the FRAZIER vs BOISE CITY case over the airport parking garage. That case was a very narrow issue over the Idaho judicial confirmation law. That law says cities and counties must get a declaration from the court “confirming” a specific debt is an EXCEPTION to the constitutional mandate for an election. That law specifies ANY CITIZEN has standing.

The court ruled for Frazier, saying the city could not enter into long term debt without a vote of the citizens. Boise has steadfastly refused to bring the issue to the voters in the form of a bond election.

A ruling in the Canyon case on whether or not the citizens have the right to sue will come in future months.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Don’t any of those people remember that we are their employers?
    Surely the employer (the public) has the authority to tell it’s employees (legislators,, commishes, councilers, cops, firefighters, street workers etc.) what they can and cannot do with the employer’s funds.
    How can they possibly argue against that fact?

    EDITOR NOTE–past cases have seldom granted mere citizens standing unless they have a UNIQUE injury. The GUARDIAN editor was denied standing when the auditorium district used public funds to advocate for a convention center…no special injury.

    Ameritel Inns was granted standing because they stood to have a “unique injury” if they paid room tax to fund the competition. Supremes of course ruled the advertising with public money to be illegal.

  2. Any taxpayer and or voter should have “standing” to question any elected offical or public group….injury is that theses folks will be effected by their stupid actions.

    The high court should NOT allow elected offical the ability to “hide” from court challenges.

  3. Hey, Gordon, of course they know who their employers are. The donors, lobbyists and party hacks who got them elected. It’s sad to see governance reduced to acts of pay back while thumbing their noses at the electorate, but it’s all about the money and influence that it takes to get elected and re-elected these days and then the paybacks. The elected officials are going to protect that golden cow with all the means available to them even it means using your money to go to court to deny you your rights.

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