Huge news from Colin McEvoy:
The city deemed the signatures valid in December, which appeared to clear the way for the May and November referendum questions.
But Tim Benyo, chief clerk of the Lehigh County Election Board, notified the city on Feb. 21 that the referendum requirements had not been met, according to a letter obtained by The Express-Times.
The county election office had not received any petitions by Feb. 19, the required 13th Tuesday before the election deadline, according to the letter.
Benyo said while the city directed the county to place the referendum question on the ballot, he could not do so because requirements under the Pennsylvania Constitution and Election Code had not been met.
“While the Lehigh County Election Board wishes to honor any obligation to the City under its Home Rule Charter, that charter cannot change superseding state law governing this office,” the letter reads.
This is game over for the ballot strategy. The lease could get approved in April, long before the next opportunity to put it on the ballot for the November elections. A looming May ballot initiative could possibly have persuaded the city to hold off until after the vote, but now the referendum will come long after the vote on the lease.
I think the best option now seems to be to persuade the Lehigh County Commissioners to extend the Lehigh County Authority’s charter so it can submit a bid for Allentown’s water system. In my view, this is not even a second-best option, it’s the first-best option. This is an opportunity to regionalize Lehigh County’s water infrastructure – a technocratic good policy goal that could save tens of millions of dollars a year, and which has enjoyed support from both Democrats and Republicans. The Lehigh County Authority is the only bidder than is both local and a non-profit. Advocates who don’t want any changes might not be happy with this, but as long as some kind of change is about to happen, this is definitely the least objectionable option, and it’s the one political organizers would be wise to rally around now that the ballot strategy won’t work.