A referendum on Davenport’s proposed purchase of the Rhythm City casino doesn’t fit Iowa code, complicated by a 19th-century charter and state election laws.

Taken in January, a poll commissioned by local critics of the casino purchase reportedly showed 92 percent of Davenport residents favored a referendum on the issue. Election experts say that can’t happen.

That doesn’t surprise Mike Duffy, president of Per Mar Security, who was one of the local businesspeople who commissioned the poll. He points to the municipal election in November as the referendum on the casino purchase, potentially being the issue that leads to the ouster of aldermen and Mayor Bill Gluba.

“I thought Bill Gluba would be mayor for life,” Duffy said, adding that he likes Gluba. “I don’t know why he decided he didn’t want the job.”

The city will seek a letter from Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz’s office clarifying the referendum issue, Gluba said. He is disappointed in Duffy’s opinion of a city council he calls the most progressive and visionary in the city’s history.

“It is way too early to talk about fall elections and politics,” Gluba said. “We’re not being driven by that at all. We’ve got 10 aldermen, and they’ve supported this because we are doing what is in the best financial interest for the people of Davenport.”

Davenport’s charter, adopted in 1851, allows the city council special powers, but calling an advisory referendum isn’t one. State law allows for a laundry list of special elections, but what the city proposes with the casino isn’t one of them.

Deputy Secretary of State Mary Mosiman called it “complicated.”

“In general, an issue put before the voters can vary within the code,” she said.

Davenport proposes spending at least $46 million to purchase the Rhythm City casino using general obligation bonds. The city charter allows the city council “to borrow money on the credit of the City, to be used for such purposes as they may think conducive to the welfare thereof.”

“The charter city ordinance allows it to happen,” Moritz said.

Davenport officials also point to the Legislative Guide to Iowa Local Government Initiative and Referendum, published by the Legislative Services Agency, that notes only two cities in the state of Iowa — Clinton and Iowa City — allow for citizen initiatives that would enact legislation not taken on by their elected representatives.

Iowa law calls for special elections for “any question authorized or required by law to be submitted to the voters at an election” and lists 161 scenarios. It also notes the number of signatures required for a certain question to be on a ballot and how many days ahead of an election petitions must be submitted.

Most recently, the city’s voters went to the polls for a referendum on the Davenport Promise program in 2009. In that election, the vote was on whether to reallocate local option sales tax, which required a referendum.

Moritz agreed with Duffy that voters likely will have an unofficial referendum on the casino purchase in November when aldermen and the mayor’s post are up for election.

“I think it is going to be about who runs for office,” she said. “Even if it is a done deal, that will be the issue.”

(8) comments

tulip

Downtrodden, you can keep thinking highly of Mike Duffy! He has been one of Gluba's biggest cheerleaders for years. Even gave him money when he ran for Congress... check the records. Partisan not likely, Duffy, like many of us, just doesn't want the city to own the casino. It's about about free enterprise.

Big Eagle

Progressive is a code word for "big spenders".We certainly know that our local elected officials are that.Our mayor was thrilled to be part of this years inauguration.The biggest spender in our country's history is his pal.

Hereandhere

I just read where Donald Trump had to sell his Trump Plaza casino/hotel for the fire sale price of $28 million. Just an example that the continued success of any casino is not a sure thing!

TruthOnlyBeTold
TruthOnlyBeTold

Good point! The article I read said he sold it for $20M...either way, that's a whole lot less than Davenport plans to spend for the rust bucket and it's anemic business on the riverfront. It puts Davenport's deal in perspective as to how bad a deal it truly is. And with internet gaming being talked about here in Iowa and even on a national level, it seems like hard times may be ahead for the brick and mortar casino's.

iadude

RIP, Davenport. Get your palms under the table- the money is about to fly.

jjones

If the council is so sure this is a good deal for Davenport, then they should buy, I want nothing to do with it. Oh, and buy the way, what if it fails and blows up in their face.....? They don't even mention that could happen. They all need their heads examined and listen to the voters.

JS824

So you're pretty much saying the citizens of Davenport are screwed either way. We can't vote on it, so the city council will push it through, but by the time the elections come up to vote some of these idiots out, they will have already bought the license so we'll be stuck with it. This is what happens when 85% of the city is too lazy to show up to vote, you get stuck with people like Gluba.

Alloren

The citizens of Davenport should have a say in the purchase and ownership of the casino. If not a referendum then how about an advisory poll. Allow the people to say if they think borrowing money to get into a faltering gaming business is conducive to our welfare. I think the mayor and council are too much invested in this enterprise and are going to ram it through no matter what the facts are. They ignore declining revenues, they toss off criticism from knowledgeable sources and refuse to contemplate the negative side of the business. The right thing and the smart thing for the council to do is systematically seek the advise of their constituents and act accordingly.

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