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Friday, January 17, 2014

Water Campaign Nixes Early Signature Submission

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 at 8:57 AM

Water_commission_presser.jpg

Campaigners hoping to create a new water and sewer board in Portland won't turn more than 50,000 signatures in early, after all.

The Portland Public Water District campaign has said for weeks it would submit petition forms earlier than the January 21 deadline, and even issued a press release yesterday telling media the drop off would occur this morning at 9 am.

But petitioner Kent Craford sent out another e-mail shortly after 8 am this morning calling the event off. Instead, the campaign will submit signatures on Tuesday, the deadline.

"We're gonna delay so we can get some additional signatures in the door," Craford tells the Mercury. "We decided it would be better if we just wait."

The delay, he says, came after the campaign learned it would have to submit all its signatures at once. The city, unlike the state, does not allow for multiple signature submissions, meaning that petition sheets still circulating wouldn't be figured in to the water district campaign's tally. Even so, Craford said, the groups has 50,126 signatures in hand—more than it's target goal. To make the ballot, the PPWD needs 29,786 signatures, but campaigns always overshoot because a segment of signatures is typically ruled invalid.

And the water campaign's efforts haven't been without controversy. The Secretary of State's office, which investigates complaints on local elections, has gotten numerous reports of signature gatherers giving out false information. According to one allegation—made by Audubon Society of Portland Conservation Director Bob Sallinger, an ardent foe of the measure—a signature gatherer claimed the campaign was supported by both Audubon and Friends of Trees. That's not only false, it's off script. Others, it's alleged, have suggested the petition would ensure corporations like Nestlé wouldn't be able to privatize the city's water supply, which isn't a possibility to begin with.

Secretary of State spokesman Tony Green says the office is still investigating the complaints.

If enough signatures are certified, the industry-backed effort will become a measure on the May ballot. But fairly significant questions remain as to exactly what effect that measure would have. Language making the districts of seven board members "coextensive" with those of the Portland Public Schools would seem to leave out swaths of east Portland not within the school district. The campaign has said that language is just an approximation, and the actual districts would cover the entire city. But city attorneys and one circuit court judge expressed doubts about the language, and the campaign's lawyer acknowledged in court it was "inartful."

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