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Signatures to save roadside memorials fall short

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NORTH BEND _ After a small turnout at the statewide


M.A.D.D. convention in April, Tony and Amy Blount began preparing


themselves for the imminent defeat that was bound to occur several months later.


Since February, the couple has been working feverishly to gather


the more than 180,000 signatures needed to place an initiative on the


November ballot that would protect memorials on public rights-of-way from


being removed.


However, it became apparent to the Blounts that they would not reach


their goal when only about two dozen of the 3,000 promised supporters


attended the recent M.A.D.D. rally.


"After the convention I crunched the numbers and realized there was


no human way I could get the needed names," Tony Blount said. "It was


a devastating blow because my belief was that we could have


generated 80,000 signatures [if everyone took petitions with them.]"


The Blounts estimate that they have collected about 70,000


signatures so far. But they won't know the final numbers until they gather the


10,000 petition sheets that are stationed at various locations across the state


including the Snoqualmie Valley.


The initiative drive started after the King County Department of


Transportation warned the family that their son's memorial would be removed.


A memorial has been in place for Brandon Blount on the corner of


North Bend Way and Tanner Road since the day he was killed in a car accident


in 1997. According to the county's code, however, only a few things are


allowed in the county's right-of-way, and the list does not include memorials.


The county and the family discussed various solutions to the


problem, but no compromise came of the talks. Then, the Blounts decided


to take their cause to the people in the form of the initiative.


"This is the last thing Tony and I wanted to be doing," Amy Blount


said. "We would rather have just been left alone."


But, Assistant Roads Division Manager Linda Dougherty said


that her department has received several complaints about the memorial


and that the family and county will need to resolve the issue soon.


"We've been holding off on talking to the family and we'll wait


until the [initiative] deadline comes and goes," she said. "So we're just in


a holding pattern."


Dougherty said that the county wanted to allow the Blounts to try


the initiative route before making any final decisions on Brandon's memorial.


"If it was a successful initiative drive, we wouldn't go do


something [against what] might have been allowed by the voters in the fall,"


she said. "It would have seemed pointless to put everyone through the


emotional stress."


Even though the family has conceded to the fact that their


proposed initiative won't be on the fall ballot, they are not giving up on the fight


to save their son's memorial. Instead, the couple plans to take the 70,000


signatures they have already gathered to Sen. Dino Rossi and ask him to


sponsor a bill that would still reflect the language of Initiative 715.


The proposal would have allowed families to erect memorials on


public rights-of-way and to determine the length of time the memorial would


be up and would have created a size limitation on the memorials. It also


included language to address safety concerns about the memorials.


"What I don't want is another mother and father, sister and


brother who'll loose someone like we did and if they choose to put something up,


I don't want them to be sitting in their house and have a county official


say they want to remove it," Tony Blount said.


Rossi said that he would be open to meeting with the Blounts.


However, he is unsure of the chances this type of bill would have because there


are so many variables that need to be discussed, such as the memorials'


placement and size and the length of time the remembrance would be allowed


to stay.


If the idea doesn't make it to the legislature, the Blounts said that


they will take their chances in the 2002 elections.


"I feel that it's been a warm up," Tony Blount said. "It was an


experience that I needed to harden me."


"Now I have a better understanding and a better view," he added.


Looking back, the couple said that the second try should be a lot


easier since they learned a lot from this latest experience.


For instance, Tony Blount said that it would probably take him days


instead of months to place the 300 petition boards across the state


because he has already made many contacts. Also, they plan to increase their


volunteer base from 150 to 500 people who could man petition booths at


different stores.


But until then, the couple will take a few months off to relax before


they hit the road again with their cause.


"We need to rejuvenate so we can face it again with more


understanding," Tony Blount said. "I believe


if this initiative could get on the ballot, 51 percent or more would be


voting for this."

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