Looks Like Someone's Itching for a Signature-Countin' Fight

I leave town for one week, and all sorts of misbehavior happens. I can’t say I am surprised, but I am disappointed.

Over at FrontBurner, Tim Rogers has been engaging in wishful journalism again about how the TrinityVote petition campaign will come up short of the required signatures to force a referendum on putting a toll road through the river park downtown. Over at The Dallas Morning News, Jackie Floyd wrote her semi-annual kiss-up-to-the-owner column about the Trinity project (“See, Mr. Decherd, it may be true I never get out of bed to write, but when I write I write for you and you alone, my swain”).

In it she says … she says … uh, let em look again here … give me just a sec, O.K. … I think she says that the whole Trinity project is just so darned complicated and so he-said-she-said that we might as well just stop thinking about it and go ahead full-steam with what Mr. Decherd wants, which would be a big super highway instead of the park that people voted for.

I read this piece of work when I got back from France, and I decided that Floyd’s intellectual problems are the exact opposite of the French. The papers over there were full of Sarkozy saying the French think too much. Yeah. Her approach puts me in mind of that fateful evening on the bridge of the Titanic: “O.K., O.K., yes, there’s an iceberg! No, there’s not an iceberg! People, I am just sick and tired of the goshdarned bickering.”

So, to the point of what’s really going on with the signatures: The story I get is that the city secretary and her augmented staff have made a pass through the 90,000 signatures (city council member Angela Hunt had more than she thought), and they have culled out a substantial body of obviously good signatures.

But those were sort of the low-hanging fruit -- the ones that had voter registration numbers, legible signatures, so on. Now they are working the boxes again to get the ones that take more work.

And here we have an issue. The city attorney may take a hard line on this, in order to help the anti-referendum forces, and say the city secretary should not work to verify a signature that lacks, for example, a voter registration number. In so doing, he would have some statutory support, I am told.

However, he would be butting his head directly against a substantial body of case law that says a good signature is, by its nature, a good signature and the government must work to discover its authenticity, rather than expunge it on technical gotcha grounds.

But if gotcha is the official line, and if that line causes City Secretary Deborah Watkins to declare a short count, then Hunt will come back to say that more signatures can be verified, because she and her people have done it.

I get the feeling Hunt right now would much rather work with Watkins to show her how to verify the remaining signatures, rather than get all lawyered up and go to court, which is what comes next. I happen to disagree. I hope Watkins calls it short and Hunt has to go to court, where she will prevail. I am writing about this for my column next week and will explain more there.

But basically it’s this: Few people get the Trinity issue itself (witness Jackie Floyd). But even during the signature-gathering phase, it was clear that a great many people -- at a fundamental and often quite emotional level -- do get the issue of disrespect for democracy. City Hall, Decherd and the Citizens Council help Hunt’s cause by playing to their own stereotype, which, by nature, they cannot help but do. Which I love.

More later. --Jim Schutze

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky