Regional District questions authenticity of playground petition

Strathcona Regional District directors say petition is questionable

A petition served to the Strathcona Regional District’s board of directors has raised some eyebrows.

The petition, which was circulated around Area D in support of replacing unsafe playground equipment at Hagel Park, had some directors questioning its authenticity.

Just prior to the board voting to receive the petition at an April 27 meeting, Campbell River Director Charlie Cornfield said he thought there was something odd about the petition.

“I notice a lot of the signatures seem to be printed the same,” Cornfield said. “They seemed remarkably similar.”

Area D Director, Brenda Leigh, said she too was suspicious so she did some research of her own.

“I did check out some of the names that are on the petition,” Leigh said, noting a large number of “the names are printed in the same hand.”

Leigh said further that, “a fair number of people told me that they had no idea this petition existed, they did not put their name on it. So it’s a little questionable.”

The petition reads that the undersigned are in “full support of the Strathcona Regional District’s Hagel Park Playground Replacement Project.”

The creator(s) of the petition could not be reached for comment but a social media posting looking for support of the petition asks Area D residents to send a private message with their name and contact information and the poster will add their names to the petition. The post also explains that the petition is in response to another group collecting signatures against the playground replacement. No petition in opposition, however, has to date been presented to the regional district.

What bothered regional district directors about the petition presented was that there were no actual signatures, only hand written names, with the petitioners’ phone number or email and their Area D address.

That prompted Leigh, with the support of the rest of the regional district board, to direct staff to review the regional district’s procedure policy with a view “to requiring that all petitions received by the SRD (Strathcona Regional District) must contain a signature line before being received.”

Leigh said it’s just common sense.

“I think that would go a long way to authenticating a petition,” Leigh said. “We don’t receive any correspondence that is unsigned, so in the same vein, I don’t think we should be accepting any petitions that are unsigned.”

But that wasn’t the only thing bothering Leigh about the petition. It was troublesome to her for another reason.

“When I first saw this petition, I was struck by the fact we’re being petitioned to do exactly what the regional district’s already doing,” Leigh said. “In fact, the RFP (Request for Proposals) closes tomorrow (last Friday) for the replacement of the Hagel Park playground equipment.

“We’re being petitioned to do something we’re already accomplishing.”

The regional district is in fact in the midst of a process to improve Hagel Park. Two independent playground safety inspections have found that a number of playground parts pose a risk to children and certain components do not meet the current Canadian Playground Safety Standards.

The highest risks to safety have already been addressed – the roof climbing structure was removed and repairs have been made to the wobble bridge. The entire structure, however, is expected to be replaced this year with a new playground, designed with the help of the Area D community that attended a design activity barbecue last summer.

The regional district has set aside $111,000 in 2017 to replace the playground.

In the meantime, Tom Yates, the regional district’s corporate services manager, said staff will review the provisions set out in the regional district’s procedure policy for receiving petitions and other correspondence.

“If there’s a need or desire from the board for something more restrictive, that will come back (to the board),” Yates said.