WINCHESTER — The Winchester Circuit Court Clerk’s Office has agreed to reduce the length of a public notice regarding a citizen-initiated voter referendum that will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.
The notice's shorter length significantly lowers the publication cost of $782.20 needed to run the previously submitted copy three times over three consecutive weeks in the city’s newspaper of record, The Winchester Star.
State law requires that public notice for any ballot referendum be published three times, starting at least three weeks before Election Day. In this case, the referendum will ask city voters if Winchester School Board seats should become elected positions instead of appointed by City Council. If the first notice for the referendum is not printed on or before Oct. 15, or if the notice is not properly worded, the referendum results could be deemed invalid.
The notice originally provided to The Star by acting Winchester Circuit Court Clerk Will Gardner was seven paragraphs long. The new, shorter notice is expected to be submitted to the paper today or Thursday, Gardner said.
City Manager Eden Freeman and a representative from the city’s law firm, Litten and Sipe, met with Gardner on Tuesday afternoon and recommended revising and shortening the notification.
However, a judge’s ruling requiring the publications costs be paid by the city resident who filed the referendum paperwork has not changed.
Roya Milotte said on Tuesday evening she had not decided if she is willing to pay for the notice, which will cost an estimated $128.70 to run over a three-week period. She plans on speaking with Gardner this morning about how she wants to proceed. Milotte was not aware she needed to pay for the notices until she was notified by the Clerk's Office, which is responsible for making the sure the notices are published.
Milotte has learned she can legally raise money from donors to cover the cost of the notification, but she isn’t sure if she will.
Gardner said on Tuesday there has been no citizen-initiated referendum in Winchester prior to the current one, so he had no precedent to follow.
”Nobody gave us direction on what needs to be said in print,” he said. “We had no other direction to bill anybody [other than Milotte].”
To clarify the billing question, Gardner sought a ruling from 26th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kevin Black. On Monday morning, Black ruled that Milotte is responsible for payment.
Winchester Voter Registrar Elizabeth Martin told The Star on Monday that she disagreed with Black's ruling, saying it's her understanding that the Clerk's Office should pay for the notices, not Milotte.
Even if Milotte chooses not to pay for the advertisement, the notifications must still run in The Star. Gardner said that’s because publication was ordered by Winchester Circuit Court Judge Alexander Iden in July when he affirmed that Milotte had collected enough signatures on a petition calling for a referendum on an elected School Board.
The notice originally submitted for publication by Gardner was the language contained in Iden's order.
Ballots for the Nov. 5 election have already been printed and contain the referendum.
Gardner, a Democrat, is campaigning to fill the seat vacated Oct. 1 by Winchester Circuit Court Clerk Terry Whittle, who retired. He is being challenged by Republican Tara Helsley.