By Polly Keary, Editor
Tim Eyman is once again turning his attention, and vitriol, to Monroe’s city government.
Eyman is citing his experience in Monroe as a motivator in his campaign to collect signatures for his latest initiative, which would force cities to run initiatives on ballots even if they are found to be legally invalid, so long as the requisite number of signatures has been collected.
The anti-tax activist has also penned sharply-worded messages to city officials, including a letter written as if by Monroe Mayor Robert Zimmerman and sent to area media in which Zimmerman seemed to repent of opposing one of Eyman’s initiatives.
Bad blood between Eyman and city
Two years ago, Eyman worked with local activists to collect signatures for an initiative that would ban traffic ticketing cameras in Monroe and force removal of them at the three intersections where they were already operating.
After an exhaustive effort that included doorbelling every house in the voting district, the anti-camera activists gathered enough signatures to get the initiative on the ballot, only to face a legal action from the city that kept the initiative from the ballot that November.
The city asked the court to clarify whether such an initiative had the power to force a city to change its traffic safety laws.
A judge ruled that it didn’t. But he ruled that one part of the initiative should have appeared on the ballot, the part that required an advisory ballot before any future camera contracts were signed.
Because the city hadn’t run the part of the initiative the judge deemed valid, the judge said the city owed a fine and damages to the activists.
The city has since appealed, and still awaits a decision. So far, the battle has cost the city about $83,000 in legal costs, not including the amount of the settlement, should the city lose on appeal.
In the meantime, the city has run two advisory initiatives on the cameras, and in the face of overwhelming opposition to the program, the mayor has said he won’t renew the contract when it expires this year.
Eyman slams elected officials
This month, Eyman announced that he would seek an initiative to prevent outcomes like that in Monroe.
Initiative 517 would guarantee voters the right to vote on initiatives when sufficient signatures have been gathered, regardless of legal challenge.
It also would give signature gatherers a year, rather than six months, to collect the signatures, and would make harassment of signature gatherers a crime.
Eyman kicked off his campaign with mass emails to the elected officials of six cities that have fought initiatives in court, including Monroe.
“Do you think the government should have the power to prevent the people from voting on initiatives that submit the required number of signatures in the required amount of time?” he asked 11 current and former Monroe officials. “You’ve forced Monroe taxpayers to spend $82,649 so far on Seattle lawyers to try to stop Monroe voters from having the chance to vote on Monroe’s red-light camera initiative — why won’t you answer the question?”
Eyman also wrote a mock letter of contrition from Monroe Mayor Robert Zimmerman and sent it to local press, along with his own “thanks” to the mayor for the apology.
“By now, it should be obvious to anyone who knows me and knows the city council that this is exactly the kind of thing we’d never say or admit to. That this is satire written by Mr. Eyman in order to make a point,” wrote Eyman, as if he were Zimmerman. “It would be better for me, the council, and the city’s residents if I did write something like what Mr. Eyman just wrote. But I can’t – you see me and several members of the city council are afflicted with EDS (“Eyman Derangement Syndrome”) — he drives us absolutely nuts. And so we say things and do things that make us look like idiots while we’re attacking Eyman.”
The mock letter confused more than one area journalist. The Everett Herald wrote to Eyman, asking “are you trying to make a joke by claiming to be Zimmerman?” To which Eyman replied “my tongue-in-cheek email was intended to say the things that Zimmerman should say, but won’t.”
Zimmerman refused to comment on Eyman’s broadside, but only cited a section of Washington state law that makes it a crime to impersonate another person.
Eyman acknowledged that his approach has been caustic.
“My email was very aggressive,” he said. “It’s a sincere frustration given the extraordinary obstruction we faced when it came to our initiative. I freely acknowledge the style outweighs the substance, but these are legitimate questions to ask.”
If I-517 passes, he said, voters will at least get to make their opinions known, even if they are ultimately found not to have the power to compel changes in certain laws.
“It’s about letting voters send a message,” he said. “It doesn’t mean a city still couldn’t do a post-election lawsuit.”
*Editor’s Note: Since this paper went to press, Eyman sent a letter of apology to all six cities to whom he had sent his emails, apologizing for his tone but maintaining his stance on the initiative process.