Petitioners trying to convince you to snatch Portland's water and sewer/environmental services bureaus from the clutches of city council have faced relatively serious accusations in the past month and a half.

At least seven Portlanders have called or written Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown's office since late October, claiming signature gatherers for the proposed Portland Public Water District are spreading lies, conning signatures under false pretenses.

The campaign has denied wrongdoing, and says its foes are trying to distract from the issues. Nonetheless, the Portland Public Water District brought the concerns to Encore Political Services, the firm carrying out the work, to ensure the rules are followed.

So what script are signature gatherers given? In investigating the complaints, Brown's office asked the water campaign for a copy. Here it is:


According to most of the complaints, signature gatherers have strayed from that script.
Some of those reports, it should be noted, come from ardent foes of the measure—staffers at Friends of Trees and the Audubon Society of Portland among them.

Among the allegations: that signature gatherers have said the petition would ensure Nestle doesn't snatch control of the water supply, and claimed some of the environmental advocacy groups opposed to the measure are actually for it. One Clean Energy Works of Oregon staffer complained a signature gatherer told him the measure would prohibit privatization of Portland's water system, a statement that's strictly true.

The most recent complaint came on November 30, and read as follows:

On November 14 a petitioner approx. 68 ys old, 5'3" woman, grey short hair, very petite, claimed that if I signed her petition, it would protect the water supply from Nestle taking it over and privatizing it. When I told her my concern was that I wasn't going to sign it because I think there shouldn't be any changes made to the current system she said that that was actually the purpose of her petition, was to keep it the same as it is now. So I signed it. Please have my signature removed from this petition.

In actuality, the measure would create a seven-member volunteer board that would assume control of the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services. There are still lingering questions about just what effect the measure would have if passed.

State law dictates signature gatherers may not "knowingly make any false statement regarding the contents, meaning or effect of the petition to any person who signs it, attempts to sign it, is requested to sign it or requests information concerning it."

If true, the November 30 complaint is clearly a breach of that law. But the Secretary of State's office says it may have a hard time proving wrongdoing, since the water district proposal is a local effort. For statewide petitions, secretary of state spokesman Tony Green says, his office collects the names and photos of everyone circulating a petition. That's not the case with local initiatives, so it's hard to locate the gatherer in question.

And investigators won't get much help from the campaign. According to a letter chief petitioners Kent Craford and Floy Jones sent state officials yesterday, they have no idea who the alleged bad operators are.

"We have made inquiries of Encore Political Services based on the limited information that was provided us," the letter says. "They have not been able to identify any canvassers based on the information provided."