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Signatures to save roadside memorials fall short

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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