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Healdsburg candidate questions city-sponsored meeting on tax hike

A Town Hall meeting next week on a proposed sales tax increase in Healdsburg is billed as strictly informational, hosted by city staff to explain the ballot measure.

But Tim Meinken, the only City Council candidate opposed to the sales tax hike, is skeptical that top city officials can give a balanced presentation on the topic.

"I find it hard to believe they will present just the facts," said Meinken, who was rebuffed in his request to be a speaker at Tuesday's 6 p.m. meeting at City Hall.

City Manager Marjie Pettus, who is giving the presentation on Measure V, said it will simply be a factual presentation about the Nov. 6 sales tax initiative, with no advocacy one way or another.

"It's a brief PowerPoint that presents information on why we felt the sales tax initiative was necessary and then we'll allow the public to ask questions," she said.

The City Council put the half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot earlier this year and individual council members have urged voters to pass it. But beyond that, state law prohibits city officials from using public funds or resources to support or oppose a ballot measure.

Legal experts say the courts have made it clear that government cannot use public money to take sides in a campaign because it gives an unfair advantage that can distort the electoral process.

"We are not allowed to advocate a position one way or another," Pettus said of the narrow path city staff has to tread.

But cities can prepare and disseminate a fair and impartial analysis of a measure.

Meinken on Wednesday said he asked to be involved in the presentation, since he is the only candidate to have come out against Measure V.

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