COLUMBIA — A Columbia woman filed a lawsuit Friday against the Business Loop Community Improvement District over a December election that raised the sales tax in the district one-half cent.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Attorney Richard Reuben on behalf of Jen Henderson, a resident of the CID, seeks to void the result of the election and stop the sales tax increase from taking effect on April 1.
Reuben said the main goal for the lawsuit is, “to throw out an unconstitutional election.”
The lawsuit lists four reasons why Henderson and her attorney believe the election should be voided:
1. The lack of a secret ballot: The lawsuit said voters in the election were required to put their name and address on the ballot itself. The CID hired election judges to keep the voters' identities secret, but their names were still on the physical ballots.
2. The lack of a secure ballot box: The lawsuit stated that the ballot box was “behind a wall that separated the Business Loop CID lobby from other parts of the office," which could have made it possible for the ballots to be tampered with at the CID offices.
3. The lack of notice: Reuben explained that the voters were only told of the election date nine days before it was held. The lawsuit said Missouri law requires 10 weeks notice before an election, and the ballot needs to be printed six weeks before.
4. The lack of a neutral election administrator: The CID administered the election, and the lawsuit argued it was not a neutral party since it stood to gain financially from the vote.
The CID plans to defend itself.
Carrier Gartner, the executive director at the CID, said via email, “The election was conducted lawfully and we intend to vigorously defend both the election process and the outcome.”
While Henderson still opposes the tax, she said if another election is held, she wants it to be a fair election.
“I would like to see a potential for this being done in an ethical and constitutional way instead of how it was done,” she said.
The Business Loop CID was approved by the City Council in April 2015, and its boundaries only included commercial properties. When the sales tax vote came up for discussion, the CID realized there was one voter in the district — Jen Henderson, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Later, KBIA found other voters in the district, so the CID decided to postpone the election indefinitely until they knew for sure how many voters there were. The CID eventually decided to hold the election, and 15 ballots in total were mailed.
In December, the election was held, and the half-cent sales tax passed by a 4-3 vote. The tax is expected to generate between $200,000 and $225,000 for the CID.
Supervising editor is Katie Kull.