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City has spent over $22,000 on Measure A lawsuit, so far

Officials say costs were necessary to protect taxpayers
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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The City of Auburn paid over $22,000 in March for legal fees related to the lawsuit filed against the authors of the ballot argument against Measure A, the initiative for Auburn to become a charter city. Opponents of Measure A say the lawsuit was frivolous and a waste of taxpayers? money. However, city officials and charter supporters say although the judge ultimately ruled that the authors of Measure A did not need to make amendments to their ballot argument, the cost of the legal fees was worth it to fight what they believe is false or misleading information. Judge Colleen M. Nichols said in her ruling that aside from the fact that the city clerk?s petition was filed late, it still would have been denied based on the fact ballot arguments are political speech protected by the First Amendment and that the situation demands a much heavier burden of proof than civil cases. City Attorney Michael Colantuono said the city was billed $22,053.18 in March for the case. Since it was argued in April there will be a small amount billed in May, he said. Hank Gonzales, former Auburn mayor and author of the rebuttal against the ballot argument for Measure A, was one of the authors sued in the case. He said taxpayers deserved to know how much the city spent on the lawsuit. He said the lawsuit was filed to keep taxpayers in the dark. ?These people decide they are going to sue citizens of their own community because they want information. Since when do the First Amendment rights not come into play?? Gonzales said. ?It was so frivolous that the judge didn?t know what to think.? Todd Stenhouse, spokesperson for Preserve Auburn ? ?No? On Measure A, said the lawsuit raises questions about what the city is trying to hide and makes it seem as if they are essentially subsidizing the ?yes? campaign. ?What is the city trying to hide and why are they willing to spend so much taxpayer money trying to hide it?? Stenhouse said. City Clerk Joe Labrie said he did authorize the lawsuit to be filed in his name, but later realized he didn?t think the statements in the ballot argument against Measure A were false or misleading. ?I was misled. They said the opposite side was making false and misleading statements on the no arguments and it sounded very reasonable,? Labrie said. ?When I found out what the truth was, then I changed my mind.? Mayor Keith Nesbitt said if the ballot argument had been true, the city wouldn?t have needed to file a lawsuit. ?If they are ethical about their argument, we don?t have to sue them over something that is not true,? Nesbitt said. He said if the charter passes, the city could save $1 million to $2 million on sewer repairs in the coming years, which makes the legal fees worth it in the long run. Opponents argue there?s no documentation to support that claim. ?We are still way ahead we are still doing the prudent thing by giving ourselves a little more autonomy from Sacramento and availing ourselves of prevailing wage in some situations,? Nesbitt said. ?I just ask the people of Auburn to look at the job the council has done over the past 6 to 7 years and why we are in the best shape of any city in the region and ask them who they really trust.? Nesbitt said the California Alliance for Jobs, which funded Preserve Auburn and represents 2,000 heavy construction companies and 80,000 union construction workers in California, is also trying to drive up the city?s legal fees even further by countersuing for the cost of their legal fees. ?This is the height of the lack of ethics on the other side. They in effect are driving our legal fees up,? Nesbitt said. ?It?s just a sleazy way to say, ?look how much the city is spending on legal fees.?? Labrie said he thinks the city would have done the same thing if Preserve Auburn had lost the case. Steve Galyardt, a past president of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce and insurance agent, said after reading the judge?s ruling he believes the city had a duty to taxpayers to sue the authors of the ballot argument against Measure A. ?I believe that the city has an obligation to ferret out the false facts that are being presented by the opposition, which the judge ruled that this was a matter of free political speech,? Galyardt said. ?Nonetheless, the accusations were false and the city has an obligation to stand up for its own citizens.? Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.