After blasting Blackburn Park petitions and signature collectors in a recent meeting, Chairman Raber has now proposed an “I want my taxes raised” petition. And he actually got the other commissioners to vote for it during the July 16 Commission meeting.
No copy of the petition was available to the public during the meeting. Members of the audience found it very difficult to understand exactly what the commissioners were voting on. The very idea of a petition to raise taxes was just too bizarre.
The next day, I obtained a copy from the commission office and then contacted the commissioners asking what they had actually voted for. It seems they did not all vote for the same thing. They, too, had difficulty understanding the chairman’s intentions and sudden interest in petitions. Some went along with the vote saying that Raber just wanted a petition to justify a tax increase. Other commissioners didn’t even grasp the idea of a “budget petition.” They thought they were just voting to approve a required form for all petitions. None of them had any idea who would be collectors, whether staff would be involved, or anything else.
When asked by a member of the audience what would indicate support of the “I want my taxes raised” petition, Chairman Raber replied that he would want signatures from 8% of the registered voters. Consensus from people who have heard about this seems to be that the chairman has entered the “twilight zone.”
Don’t commissioners want to hear from their constituents?
Chairman Raber began attacks on the validity of petition signatures as soon as he realized how much concern was raised for Blackburn Park as a result of the petition. He claims that signatures could only be trusted if collectors sign an affidavit on the back of each page stating that the collector saw each signature being signed. That kind of petition has only been used by the Elections Division of the State of Georgia for ballot access and recall petitions.
A petition like the one for Blackburn Park has no legal status. It is used merely to inform elected officials of the interest and concern of their constituents. Would legal status be granted to the Blackburn Park petition if the authorized petition form is followed? If citizens of Lumpkin County can by petition effect actions of our government, this is a marvelous opportunity for citizen participation. The 1st Amendment right to petition will have been greatly broadened.
On the other hand, if a burden of affidavits and notaries is being required to limit the use of petitions to inform elected officials, then commissioners are limiting free speech. Don’t they want to hear from their constituents? Maybe not. At the July Work Session Raber said, “If it is so bad here, moving is an option.”
What is the real purpose of that petition form? Only time will tell. It may turn out to be a good thing that we are beginning to discuss petitions, including the Petition for Recall.