Saturday, July 20, 2013

On double standards

Simon Enoch, Paul Dechene and Stephen Whitworth have already weighed in on the City of Regina's choice to blow its nose on a petition that reflects citizen engagement in action. But I'm surprised nobody's yet pointed out the vastly different treatment between two different aspects of the petition.

As Dechene notes, the City took two steps to arbitrarily cut down on the number of names treated as valid. First, it simply threw out over 2,800 names based on the fact that the listed date didn't include the year. And second, it conducted a "sampling" of the names on the remaining list, presuming that any signatures were invalid unless a signatory provided a positive response to a phone-out campaign - then applied the response rate for that sample to the balance of the signatures.

And there's a particularly jarring disconnect between those two steps.

Simply put, if the City was going to be calling out to confirm the validity of information on the petitions in any event, there's no excuse for their pitching petitions based on the date without conducting comparable sampling to assess that issue. After all, it would have taken little added work to conduct a similar sampling of the signatures which didn't list the year, and determine whether the intended year was in fact 2013.

But apparently sampling techniques were seen as utterly unacceptable if they served to validate rather than exclude signatures.

And based on the City's earlier attempt to change the rules in the middle of the petition campaign in order to prevent any referendum, we have to presume they had some even more restrictive form of "verification" ready in the wings if the phone campaign didn't figure to meet its goal of avoiding the referendum threshold: perhaps setting up an in-person roll call with 15 minutes notice, and disqualifying the signature of anybody not present to respond to his or her name being called.

It remains to be seen how Council will answer the Clerk's report - though anybody counting on most of the current crop to value public input when a chance for a private operator to bleed the city dry is at stake figures to be in for a long wait. But there's reason to hope that the Clerk's double standard will give the petitioners a fighting chance if we see the expected response.

Update: Paul Dechene has more

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