Having gathered signatures for candidates and causes in my younger days, I know the drill. I recognize that many people sign them mostly to be nice to whoever is circulating them and that much of the time those who pen their names have little or no idea what they just endorsed.
However, there are also people who sign because they want very much to register their approval for whatever it is the petition is calling for - a fireworks display on the Fourth of July, a congressional candidacy or even a referendum on whether to have a chief operating officer.
Many of those commenting on this blog -- and probably some city officials -- are more concerned with the technicalities of who witnesses a signature on a petition than they are with the people who put their names to the petitions. What's truly important is not whether circulator X has his witness signature notarized or not. It's that 4,000 or more ordinary citizens signed the petitions seeking a referendum on this issue. That's a gigantic number (assuming, of course, that it's true). And city leaders ought to remember that what the law intends is for the people to have their say if they can get enough signatures. It appears that they did.
I remember in New York seeing candidates for public office disqualified because they put staples to hold their petitions together instead of paper clips -- or maybe it was the other way around. This was considered politically acceptable. But it was ridiculous, a way of turning our democracy into a sham.
Does Bristol need a chief operating officer? I don't know.
But I do know that when the people want to vote on it, they ought to get the chance, regardless of whether circulators screwed up or city officials put up roadblocks or lawyers decide to nitpick. And God forbid that the police wind up investigating this sort of sideshow when there are murderers on the loose and all sorts of serious crimes that don't get the attention they need.
Just put the people first, folks, and everything will be fine.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org