Friday, May 20, 2011

No Reply: Does It Mean He Doesn't Love You?

Cleaning out my refrigerator of election leftovers, I came across something that maybe should be taken straight to the dump (with a stop at the Lookout Drive Transfer Station along the way, of course). But, smart or not, I've decided to make one last election meal of it anyway.

After the jump, chewing over NPAR's last meal.

In case you haven't been paying attention, the Neighborhood Protection Alliance of Richardson (NPAR) has been sparring with the City of Richardson and the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) for the last couple of years over NTMWD's plan to do a total reconstruction of the Lookout Drive Transfer Station (LOTS). I have my differences with NPAR, but in principle, I applaud their goal of ensuring an environmentally sensitive reconstruction and operation of LOTS. The pros and cons, the ups and downs of the LOTS saga can all be pored over on the NPAR website and the NTMWD website.

But those details are not the meal I'm heating up here. No, the leftover election meal I'm serving up has to do with a newsletter sent to NPAR's mailing list on May 13, 2011, that is, the day before the Richardson City Council election. It reported on the city council candidates' positions on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) about the LOTS reconstruction:

"Given the current situation regarding the MoU and the upcoming council elections, we felt that it was important to see where the candidates who will inherit this process stand. We have posed the following questions to all the active candidates and listed below are all the exact responses received by our deadline.

"We invite you to read through these responses and judge for yourself. As you review these responses, note that several of the incumbents that adopted the MoU did not respond. Please consider the information below as you make your decision and then don't forget to vote. Don't underestimate the power of your vote or voice. Strong citizen participation is the best guarantee for a thriving and vibrant community!"

Readers of the NPAR newsletter would have noticed that six of the candidates (seven, if you count Alan North, who wasn't listed) were listed as having not replied to the inquiry. I can only speak for myself, but I inferred that lack of response was deliberate, that those candidates were ignoring NPAR and its concerns. In part that was because the newsletter itself explicitly called readers' attention to the lack of responses and asked voters to "please consider the information below as you make your decision."

Only long after my vote was cast was another explanation for the lack of responses suggested. That is, it simply may have been a case of busy people not having enough time to see and respond to the inquiry. But surely, I thought, NPAR would not have rushed the candidates, making them look bad by sending them a late inquiry with a short deadline. So I asked. According to NPAR, it turns out that NPAR gave candidates about 36 hours to respond, with the deadline at noon two days before the election.

It also turns out that one of the "No Reply" candidates did respond, after the published deadline but before the newsletter was emailed. This candidate was listed as "No Reply." Another candidate replied saying the inquiry was seen only after the newsletter was already emailed. A third candidate replied after the newsletter was already emailed with concerns about the timing.

To me, all this suggests the deadline was too short. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if busy candidates, most of whom have "day jobs," might not have seen this inquiry in time to respond by deadline.

I think the candidates should have been given longer than 36 hours to receive and respond to an inquiry made in the last days of an election campaign. And, if that's what NPAR gave them, the 36 hour deadline should have been mentioned in the newsletter, in the interest of full disclosure to voters. Saying nothing led some readers (me, at least) to infer something about the attitude of the candidates that is clearly wrong in some cases and maybe all. In my opinion, NPAR did these candidates and the voters a disservice.

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