POSTED: 11:46 am PDT July 18, 2008
OAKLAND, Calif. -- A judge said Friday that it was legal for Oakland city and elected officials to mislead voters about a 2004 ballot measure that promised to hire police officers, saying that his hands are tied by an appellate court ruling.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch said the key factor in deciding whether the city of Oakland should be allowed to continue collecting taxes authorized by Measure Y is the language of the ballot measure itself, not what was said in chapter headings or in election materials distributed to voters.
Marleen Sacks, an attorney who lives in Oakland and filed suit against the city asking that it be forced to return $60 million to its taxpayers, alleging that it has failed to live up to its promise to hire more police officers, said Roesch's ruling "gives any politician a license to lie" to voters to get measures passed.
Roesch said, "I may say it's unjust and I don't like it" but he doesn't know of any legal authority that would allow him to him to rule against the city, based on a ruling by the state Court of Appeals in a similar case.
The city of Oakland's own Web site, in a response to a question about how voters will know that their tax dollars will be spent on hiring more officers, says Measure Y "has several safeguards," including one that "the city will maintain a baseline of 739 police officers in addition to the 63 new officers" authorized by Measure Y, which was approved by city voters in 2004.
Oakland currently has 748 officers, but Sacks says it reached that level only recently and had less than 739 officers for nearly four years, so it shouldn't have been collecting Measure Y taxes.
Roesch said he is bound by the language in the measure itself, which he said "is not ambiguous" in allowing the city to collect Measure Y taxes as long as the money is appropriated for more officers.
The measure doesn't explicitly require that that the additional officers authorized by the measure be hired, Roesch said.
Sacks said outside court that she's disappointed by Roesch's ruling but the main issues in her lawsuit remain intact and will be addressed by Roesch at a full hearing on the merits later this year.
Sacks said one of the remaining key issues is her allegation that the city is in effect "robbing" its citizens by taking $7.7 million from Measure Y and using it for generalized police recruitment.
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It seems that the judge's ruling begs the point. Are we now to accept that our local and state governmental bodies legally can publish advisories to the voters which are not in agreement with the acts being described?
Meaning that the voters must read the act itself and disregard the analysis published by the agency responsible for informing them of the meaning of the act.
The elected representatives and other employees of the people are legally entitled to lie to and mislead their employers about matters of taxation?
Hell, folks, that's not new. It is just business as usual being interpreted as legal action rather than malfeasance.