Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Petitions, bad...Polls, good?

At last night's Township Committee meeting (according to the Star-Ledger), Mayor Profeta called for a poll to see what the community thinks about the Bette White site as the location for Maplewood Police Headquarters. "I would never advocate reversing a township committee decision based on a petition," Profeta said, after a citizen's group presented a petition asking that the site proposals be put on the November ballot as a referendum. Instead he proposed a poll of around 1000 Maplewood residents, saying that a poll would be more timely and cost-effective. In the meantime, the TC has tabled the Bette White site condemnation resolution.

I don't understand Profeta's reasoning. If 1500 interested residents have already expressed, in a petition, their belief that the TC should at least revisit the decision, how will a poll of 1000 people, most of whom probably aren't even aware of the issue let alone have an opinion about it, give the TC any useful new information? Taking such an opinion poll will cost the township $1000 and leave the issue no clearer than before. In any case, I don't think government ought to run on the basis of opinion polls OR petition drives. Elected officials absolutely have an obligation to listen to their consituents and to reconsider decisions when constituents don't think they're right - but what ought to drive those decisions is maximal benefit for the community as a whole. If the TC really believes it made the right decision in the first place, neither petitions nor polls should sway them.

It seems as if last night's decision was a purely political "let's try to keep everyone happy" move. If the sense of the TC is that the original choice of Bette White might have been faulty, they should say so, convene a new group to re-evaluate the proposed sites, and make a new decision. Since no decision will keep everyone happy, the question at hand is, or ought simply to be, "Which site will produce the best result for Maplewood?"

If the TC members think they've already correctly made that decision, then they should stick with it. Say to the petitioners, the Hilton Neighborhood Association, and the Springfield Ave. Partnership "Thanks for your input. We respect your opinions, and understand that you disagree with ours, but we believe, based on all the available information, that selecting this location will best benefit all of Maplewood." If, on the other hand, they're not sure if they were right on the first go-round, then they should gather more data and re-examine the whole thing.

TC member Ken Pettis summed it up best.
"If you think you made the wrong decision, admit to it," he said. "Change it. Don't throw it back and shade it."

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