TAKING THE INITIATIVE, FLINT - DRAFTING DISASTER REDUX
Unfortunately for Mi-NORML, a variation of the CNDP petition drafting error happened to one of our own ballot efforts in 2005.
With victories in Detroit #2 and Ann Arbor under our belt a bit of complacency had, perhaps, set in. And it was, of course, at that moment that ill fortune struck.
After our first effort to make the ballot in Detroit failed in2002, a decision was made to start again in 2004 retaining new legal counsel. Neal Bush was someone who not only knew election law from top to bottom, but had provided some limited legal assistance to another successful medical marijuana initiative in Ann Arbor later that year. Our intent was to use Mr. Bush's expertise for three new ballot initiatives planned for 2005 in the cities of Flint, Ferndale and Traverse City.
Sadly, in early 2005, Mr. Bush suffered a devastating stroke, and was completely incapacitated as a result.
All of us who were behind the three initiatives planned for that year, were very concerned for our colleague's misfortune, though not so much for the impact on the initiatives.
For one thing, the charter and local ordinance books for Flint and Ferndale were almost exact legal replicas of what we faced in Detroit (and won the second time around). Hence, all concerned believed the "Detroit" model could be easily adapted to these two new targets.
Also, another attorney, though lacking Mr. Bush's depth of experience, did have a working knowledge of election law, and volunteered his time pro bono to handle the drafting of the Flint petition.
Unfortunately, during the drafting process, a paragraph to be inserted was misnumbered.
The consequences of this mistake were swift and brutal.
After gathering over 1,600 signatures in a timely fashion to place our local medical marijuana initiative on the ballot (about 1200 were required), the Flint City Clerk, upon advice of the city's law department, refused to certify the measure on the ballot - citing the misnumbered paragraph as the reason. The Clerk's rejection letter was accompanied by a copy of the Michigan Court of Appeals decision in the CNDP case of 2002. Needless to say, the Flint Coalition for Compassionate Care declined to contest the matter in court.
With respect to this disaster, a couple lessons can be gleaned.
First, never get complacent. Check and re-check every detail of your petition form over and over. Then get someone else who hasn't been involved to check it again. And monitor your attorney's work very carefully.
Second, remember that you get what you pay for. As someone once said: "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." The attorney and all principals involved in the Flint effort were well-intentioned. That being said, unless the reformer is absolutely desperate for money (in which case you probably ought to reevaluate your prospects for success in the first place), always pay for the legal work and maintain an arm's length, business relationship with the attorney.
When money is at stake, the attorney has a stronger motivation to pay attention to detail. And you as a client have an even more serious interest in making sure your efforts will be fruitful.
While money is, of course, no guarantee that everything will be perfect - as the million dollar SNAFU in the case of CNDP clearly proves - things may well have turned out differently in Flint in 2005 had legal counsel been retained.
In assembling the personnel to do a ballot initiative, there are two team members who really should be professionals - not volunteers. They are your legal counsel and your advertising/media consultant.
Continue to FERNDALE AND TRAVERSE CITY or back to the Index