Opinion: When 'yes' mean 'no' and 'no' means 'yes'
Thursday, May 31, 2012 10:01 AM
As I’ve noted before in this column, our biggest challenge is communicating effectively with our citizens.
Citizens receive the preponderance of city-related information via the media, and we appreciate their commitment to important civic issues. However, since reporters must balance the decision to cover news and information from the city with other news from across the community, they aren’t able to cover even half of the news sent from press releases we issue.
So how do we get the word out directly to citizens? And how do we best explain the details of confusing ballot initiatives such as the upcoming smoking ban repeal vote?
Well, we start by explaining. For instance, the communication in the June “smoking ban repeal” election is that “yes” means “no,” and “no” means “yes.”
You see, those of you who voted “yes” for the smoking ban back in April 2011, will now need to vote “no” in June if you want to retain the ban and reject the repeal initiative petition. And those of you who voted “no” against the smoking ban back in April 2011, will now need to vote “yes” if in June if you want to repeal the voter-approved smoking ban. Confused? Welcome to my world.
But wait, didn’t City Council recently amend the smoking ban ordinance to allow a few exemptions? Yup. And I’ve heard from quite a few of you stating that you’re so glad council did that so that we now don’t need to have an election in June. Oops. Wrong. The smoking ban repeal came to council as an initiative petition, and council members elected to send it to the voters. Thus, there will be a June election regardless of council’s recent amendments. However, now you, the voter, understand your choices when you (hopefully) vote in June – the amended smoking ban vs. a total repeal of the smoking ban. You get to decide – again.
I’ve also heard from a number of you, saying things such as, “Didn’t my vote in April mean anything?” Well, it did, but this is the way our existing initiative petition process works. It promotes pingpong.
I predict that if the existing smoking ban is repealed in the June election, the proponents of the smoking ban will begin collecting signatures within a few days. And if the smoking ban is upheld, opponents of the ban may begin collecting signatures again. And the pingpong game continues.
Want to stop the pingpong game and the associated election costs – between $80,000 and $100,000 per ballot initiative? Council is placing a set of initiatives on the August ballot that would make significant changes to our initiative petition process. Otherwise, I can go out and collect signatures to ban all blue cars from Springfield, and if I get only 2,100 signatures, I can put City Council in a box. The only two choices, per city charter, would be to pass the “blue car ban” or place it on a ballot and charge the citizens for an additional election, whether my petition is legal or not. I’ll bet if I gave away a few slices of pizza, some Skittles or just shouted “the government is keeping me down” on a downtown street corner, I could collect 2,100 signatures in two evenings.
I hate blue cars. Don’t you think I have a right to ban them from Springfield? In the meantime, city staff will post more information on this issue at SpringfieldMO.gov/election.
Greg Burris is Springfield’s city manager. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.