POCATELLO, Idaho - The Pocatello City Council unanimously approved the wording that will put the non-discrimination ordinance on a ballot in May, but not without some concerns from people who signed the petition to get it there. Some say if they knew the petition led to the option of the ordinance being repealed, they wouldn't have signed.
Several months ago, our station received a news tip from a viewer saying they felt they had been misled about the purpose of the petition. Since that time we have been investigating.
After looking through the signed petitions, our reporter recognized names of people who had spoken out for the ordinance while that process was going on in June, and decided to ask them if they knew the purpose was to repeal the ordinance. They said no.
"And it did kind of make me mad," said Rachel Ebert, currently a student at Idaho State University.
Ebert said that was her first thought when she found out the purpose of signing the petition was to repeal the ordinance. She said she was told it was simply to put the matter to a vote for the people to decide.
"Why couldn't they just say what this is for?" Ebert said. "Why did they have to kind of hide the fact they were trying to repeal it, instead of just putting it on the ballot."
She said she does not want the ordinance repealed, and if she had known the true intent, would not have signed. But she's not the only one who feels that way.
"I was told it was to keep the conversation going," said Jamie Romine-Gabardi, who signed the petition after a knock on her door on Oct. 9, 2013.
"I then asked just for a little bit of clarification," Romine-Gabardi said. "I asked, "So this is not to change the ordinance, but to keep the conversation going?" and he said, "Right.""
When gathering signatures, the law requires you state clearly the intent of the petition, which all petitioners did, according Rochelle Lillig, who our reporter spoke over the phone with Thursday morning. Lillig said she only undertook this petition after community members asked her to, though she does want the ordinance repealed.
Lillig said she couldn't speak for the other signature gatherers, but she told those she spoke with that a signature did not constitute a vote either way, and the petition has no authority to repeal the ordinance and just puts it on the ballot. While all that is true, Deputy City Attorney Rich Diehl said that's not all there is to it.
"If individuals are circulating a petition for a referendum, presumably they're doing that because they want to repeal an existing law," Diehl said. He said a referendum is always to repeal a current law, while signing a petition for an initiative is to get lawmakers on any level to create a law that doesn't exist. He said anyone signing the referendum petition can have a number of goals.
"There could be any number of reasons they would sign the petition," Diehl said. "One could be they support the ordinance, but they think it should be open to the vote."
Despite the confusion about the petition, the language for the referendum is very clear. A 'yes' vote means you want the city council to repeal the current non-discrimination ordinance. A 'no' vote means you want the ordinance to stay in effect.
For the two women who signed the petition thinking it was for a different purpose however, they said this has caused them to think twice about any future actions.
"I will be extremely cognizant of wording and word choice from this point forward," Romine-Gabardi said. "I'm disappointed that my name has shown up on something that would repeal something I find important."
"I just need to be more clear on what I'm signing before I sign it," Ebert said. "That or just don't answer the door."
A few other people spoke to our reporter off the record and said they too felt it should have been clearer that the goal was to repeal the ordinance.
Our reporter also spoke with others who said they felt the ordinance has caused a lot of division in the community, and they want to promote a positive discussion with a vote.
The vote for the referendum will be held May 20, the same day as the Republican Primary.