A petition with more than 17,000 signatures calling for a binding election on the future of Century II and other city-owned buildings has been ruled invalid.
Sedgwick County District Judge Eric Commer said in his decision released Friday that although the petition is "sufficiently valid as to form," it is prohibited under state statute because it proposes an administrative ordinance and exceeds legislative authorization by calling for a binding election.
"This court would rule that the initiative petition is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad," Commer wrote.
The group Save Century II submitted the petition to the city this summer seeking to have the initiative included on this fall's general election ballot. If it had been approved, it would have mandated a public, binding election prior to the demolition of Century II, the former central library — both of which were recently added to the National Register of Historic Places— and other historically significant city-owned buildings.
The city challenged the petition in court, arguing its language was too broad and saying there’s no statutory basis for the city to hold a binding vote on the issue.
The Wichita City Council approved its own policy earlier this month to hold an advisory election before potentially demolishing either Century II or the neighboring former library. A new masterplan for the city's downtown riverfront recommends tearing down both.
Organizers with Save Century II say an advisory election doesn't go far enough.
"You want a binding vote or you want a non-binding vote?" John Todd said in an interview with KMUW before oral arguments in court began. "The people say we want a vote. We, 17,265 people, signed that we want a binding vote. We want a say."
Todd called Friday's ruling "a disappointment and a disgrace." He said the group plans on meeting next week and that "everything's on the table."
In a statement, the city said it "appreciates he thoughtful consideration of District Court Judge Commer on this matter."
"Regardless of this decision, the Wichita City Council is committed to giving citizens a voice about the future of Century II and the Central Public Library and has approved a policy calling for a vote that will help shape decisions going forward."