The Oak-to-Ninth Referendum Coalition has written to City Attorney John Russo, “protesting his action to halt verification” of the 25,000+ signatures gathered on a petition for referendum to reverse the city council’s July 18th approval of the Oak-to-Ninth project.

[See related story: “City Attorney Russo ‘invalidates’ Oak-to-Ninth referendum petition.”]

In a press release today, the Referendum Coalition asserts that Russo’s letter to the City Clerk “seems to reveal serious violations of the City Charter by the City Council and city staff.”

A centerpiece of the city attorney’s opinion was his allegation that the “wrong draft of the ordinance was attached” to the petitions — “a draft, but not the final adopted, version of the Ordinance.”

However, the Referendum Coalition says the version they attached to the petition “is precisely the document the City Council had before it and approved on July 18th” and is the same, as well, as the version obtained through the City Clerk’s office on July 22nd (four days after the city council meeting at which the Oak-to-Ninth project was approved on its second reading).

The project received the city council’s approval on its first reading on June 20th. A second reading is required to finalize approval.

The Coalition said that it has compared “this first ‘final’ version with a later, much-revised ‘final’ version at last obtainable only after several weeks and many requests,” adding that “Mr. Russo claims the first version is the wrong one, and that the latter is the official one.”

What both the city attorney and the Referendum Coalition do seem to agree on is that a referendum petition — which must be circulated within the 30 days immediately after an ordinance’s passage — must be based on its exact language.

However, Helen Hutchison, President of the League of Women Voters of Oakland, asked:

If the wording of ordinances continues to change after the final vote, how could anyone ever petition for referendum? The Coalition finds itself in a real “Catch 22” situation.

Stuart Flashman, attorney for the Referendum Coalition, said:

There is indeed a public policy favoring full disclosure to voters. However, there is an equally, if not stronger, public policy that government be open and forthright in dealing with its citizens, and that an ordinance not be modified substantially after first reading, and most certainly not after it has received final City Council approval. The City’s post-approval manipulation of the Development Agreement violated this policy, which is explicitly stated in the Oakland City Charter.

Flashman said that the City is barred from “asserting that a substantially different document is the approved City ordinance.”

Flashman’s letter calls upon the City Attorney to reconsider his direction to the City Clerk “to withdraw the petitions.” Failure to do so, Flashman warned, will result in legal action by the Referendum Coalition against the City of Oakland, the City Clerk, and the City Attorney “to reverse these improper and illegal actions.”