The city of Edinburg rejected an effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all city employees and is now facing a lawsuit from the organization that introduced the initiative.
During a city council meeting Tuesday, the Edinburg City Secretary Clarice Y. Balderas explained she rejected a petition submitted by Ground Game Texas that would have prompted the city council to either raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for their employees and contractors or place the initiative on the ballot for the November election.
Ground Game Texas, an organization that advances progressive initiatives throughout the state, and LUPE Votes, a progressive organization that serves as the political arm of La Union Del Pueblo Entero, worked together to collect signatures throughout the city for the minimum wage initiative and submitted the petition to then-interim City Secretary Elizabeth Rodriguez in April.
During Tuesday’s meeting, though, Balderas said she had rejected the petition because it did not meet requirements set in the city charter.
The city charter requires that such a petition be signed by a number of residents that is equal to at least 10% of those who voted in the last regular municipal election.
Ground Game Texas needed 1,800 signatures for the petition and, with the help of LUPE Votes, they were able to secure more than 2,000 signatures.
If a petition is certified by the city secretary, she must then present it to the city council who will vote on whether to adopt the ordinance or not.
If the petition had been certified but the city council had not adopted the minimum wage ordinance, Ground Game Texas and LUPE Votes could have forced an election on the initiative by submitting another petition with signatures that equal at least 5% of the people who voted in the last regular city election. Those people must also be different from those who signed the first petition.
The trouble with this petition stemmed from who collected the signatures.
The city charter does not require all signatures to appear on one page but it does require that each separate petition include an attached affidavit signed by a person circulating the petition.
The petition must also include the names and addresses of five voters who are considered responsible for circulating and filing the petition. Each page of the petition must also have the names and addresses of those five voters.
Balderas explained to the council that the petition was rejected on three grounds:
>> the names and addresses of the five voters responsible for circulating the petition did not appear on the petition;
>> the five names of those five voters listed on the 214 pages of the petition did not match the affidavits;
>> although an amendment was received correcting the wording on the affidavits, the names of the people signing the affidavits did not match any of the names of the five voters responsible for circulating the petition.
After being rejected, Ground Game Texas filed their lawsuit on June 5 against Balderas and the city, alleging they violated the First Amendment. Their complaint, filed in federal court, seeks a temporary restraining order and injunctive and declaratory relief.
“Ground Game’s amended petition complied with local and state requirements in every respect,” the lawsuit stated.
In regards to the first reason the city cited for rejecting the petition, Ground Game states that they included the names of the five voters by adding them to the second page of each petition and state that no rule prohibits them from having a two-page petition form.
As to the second and third reasons their petition was rejected, they state both are based on the city secretary’s “unlawful determination” that only those five voters are allowed to collect signatures for the petition.
Among the people who worked on gathering signatures were two field organizers hired by Ground Game Texas, neither of whom are registered to vote in Edinburg.
“The City Secretary’s decision is unconstitutional because it not only requires circulators
to be registered Edinburg voters, but it also mandates that only five people in total may gather signatures for an initiative,” the lawsuit states.
Through the lawsuit, Ground Game is seeking to require the city secretary and the city of Edinburg to verify Ground Game’s petition, expedite the timeline set in the city charter for the review of the petition, and take all necessary actions to ensure the city council has the opportunity to adopt the minimum wage or order an election by Aug. 16, which is the deadline to place an item on the Nov. 8 election ballot.
An initial conference in the case is scheduled for August in Houston.
In response to the rejection, Mike Siegel, a co-founder of Ground Game Texas, reiterated the organization’s stance that the city secretary’s decision was unconstitutional.
“The City Secretary’s decision to reject a lawful petition to raise local wages signed by hundreds of Edinburg residents is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” Siegel said in a statement. “The right for citizens to petition their government is at the cornerstone of our democracy, and the City should not be making it harder for people to have their voice heard.”