Thomas Jefferson said it best, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." When no one is watching, government can become emboldened, even confident that legal boundaries can be stretched with impunity. This is why citizen participation in government is so important.
Involvement must go beyond faithfully voting. Groups like the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers serve a valuable function in our representative form of government. The people involved in ACT are regular citizens that have chosen to dedicate a little spare time each week checking on borough government, to make sure they are being good. If problems are found, ACT sounds the alarm for other people to wake up and take notice.
The alarm bells are sounding now something bad is afoot. It is masquerading as a benign housekeeping ordinance introduced ostensibly to save the borough clerk time and effort when dealing with citizen initiatives and referendums. Ordinance 2007-32 will receive its second public hearing Tuesday.
In addition to a few sensible reforms, the proposed ordinance seeks to limit the number of signature booklets available and limit the number of people allowed to collect signatures.
Alaska Statute AS 29.26.120(c) reads, "Copies of the petition shall be provided by the clerk to each sponsor who appears in the clerk's office and requests a petition, and the clerk shall mail the petition to each sponsor who requests that the petition be mailed." In legalese, the word "shall" means must. As you can see, state statute has no provision for limiting either the number of booklets available or petitioners.
By limiting the number of booklets printed, a petition drive is seriously hampered. People sometimes sign out a lot of books and then discover they can't commit the time to fill them. The books cannot be transferred to another gatherer. Also, the specter of abuse is real: an opponent of the initiative could conceivably sign out all remaining books and effectively stop the drive.
It is always best to have as many sponsors collecting signatures as possible. The act of doing something positive and pro-active is empowering. It allows ordinary people to become involved in their government.
Our founding fathers had the wisdom to make the initiative process difficult, to prevent frivolous issues ending up on the ballot. They also had the foresight to put safeguards in place to prevent the government from taking away this valuable citizen's right.
Please contact the borough assembly and encourage them to vote "No" on Ordinance 2007-32. They need to lead by example and follow state law. E-mail and telephone numbers for the assembly can be accessed through the "Links" button at www.act-kpb.org and then choose "KPB Clerk Page." If you really want to keep it your government, you must also commit to being eternally vigilant.
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