Petition Efforts Embody Grassroots Politics

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Petitions are currently circulating in Salisbury and Ocean City. While the topics and motivations are clearly different, voters would be wise to sign them both.

First, in Ocean City, many citizens outraged over the removal of City Manager Dennis Dare were left scratching their heads last month when they learned they had no recourse against their elected officials until the next election.

Once it was learned there was no recall option in the city code, local lawyer David Gaskill drafted a charter amendment that would allow the mechanism, and the petition effort received a shot in the arm when the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police jumped on board. The FOP has been successful in at least five petitions to referendum in the last decade or so.

To be placed before voters in October of 2012, 20 percent of the registered voters in Ocean City must sign the petition, meaning 1,310 valid signatures must be confirmed. If the petition effort is successful, as expected, and the referendum passed next October, the proposed charter amendment as drafted allows for the recall of a certain member of the Mayor and Council if about 450 signatures are secured. The recalled official would then have five days to step down or a special election would likely be held, offering a yeah or nay vote from voters on that official’s future.

We think the citizens should have the ability to oust a council member if the general public thinks it has been shamed or degraded in some fashion. Most government codes allow this mechanism and this seems only right, although we suspect the recall option would be rarely used around here, as controversial situations like the Dare ousting are rare.

Over in Salisbury, Councilwoman Laura Mitchell has about 600 signatures from registered voters to date in her team’s effort to halt a transformation of the current government.

The petition seeks to place a charter amendment before voters in the next city election. The proposed amendment at issue specifically involves control over the appointment and authority of the city attorney, among other things. It specifically gives oversight over and access to the city attorney to the council, rather than the mayor as it is currently.

To be successful and get the charter change on the next ballot, about 2,300 signatures are needed, but Mitchell has set a goal of 3,000 signatures, since many are routinely eliminated by elections officials for a variety of reasons.

We think Mitchell’s effort is valid and the recent changed approved by the council in a 5-2 vote deserves further consideration before being implemented. A successful petition effort would stall the change until the next election, allowing voters significant time to become educated on the matter.

Even if residents do not wholeheartedly agree with the mission of the petition organizers in Salisbury and Ocean City, we suggest residents sign them. All that does is place the issue on the ballot as a referendum. They still have time to research the issue further and can vote against what the petition sought when the times comes.

The petition process is an excellent exercise in grassroots democracy and we think it’s a valid process that’s productive for all involved.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.