Anonymized posts and e-mails to Unfair Park over the weekend have suggested the Dallas City Secretary’s Office is already finding a low ratio of valid signatures on petitions turned in last Friday for the referendum on building a superhighway between the flood-control levees along the river. But there's a small problem with that claim.
Truth is, TrinityVote, the people who gathered the petitions, carried out a sophisticated verification process for signatures during the entire time that volunteers were out collecting. Verification and preparation of signatures and petitions took place in a five-room bureau, with checks and double-checks against a complete copy of the county’s voter registration database.
Angela Hunt, the captain and commander of this effort, never focused on the raw count, as far as I could tell. She was always looking for the verified count. But that's not all.
Another troubling factor here: Most folks probably have forgotten a little incident that happened in early May, when Dallas Morning News reporter Dave Levinthal discovered that Laura Miller’s petition foe group (with the infelicitous name of “Sink the Petition! Save the Trinity!”) had not filed a “specific purpose committee” or campaign treasurer declarations with the Dallas City Secretary’s Office. Failure to file left Miller’s group open to Class A criminal misdemeanor penalties and civil fines of up to $5,000.
But on that very day, City Secretary Deborah Watkins blunted the story for Miller by stating that Hunt’s group, TrinityVote, also had not filed. Instead of a story making Miller’s group look like crooks -- a pretty hot story -- Levinthal wound up with a lukewarm pox on both houses.
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One week later Watkins “found” the papers Hunt’s group had filed on time. Watkins promised to send Hunt a written apology. The recovery of the lost filing papers rated one paragraph in The Morning News’ “regional round-up” of tidbits.
Hunt has insisted since then that she trusts Watkins and believes the mistake was genuine. I know that Watkins has a long impeccable history with the city and comes from a respected political and professional family (that includes Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins).
But I’m a lot more cynical and worried than Hunt, I think, about hanky-panky with these signatures. Hunt and her people are taking the right tack, probably. They seem to be saying that they will trust the city secretary to do a good job with verification and have lined up some really great lawyers for the lawsuit if something goes wrong.
I think this moment -- right here -- is where things get strange and stinky. So far the people on the other side were too stupid to take this effort really seriously. If anything flaky happens with those signatures, the TrinityVote folks have got to find a way to go after the flakes with individually focused criminal and civil charges. It’s too important. If this goes wrong, somebody needs to go to jail. Doesn’t matter if it’s somebody big or just somebody small doing what he or she was told to do. Catch what you can. Make it hurt. --Jim Schutze