A capacity crowd, including statewide media, jammed into Hope City Hall on Monday for a tension-packed special-called meeting of the Hope City Board to address the 'Citizens for Change' petition, which will now likely result in a special June election instead of the Primary election on May 22.
A capacity crowd, including statewide media, jammed into Hope City Hall on Monday for a tension-packed special-called meeting of the Hope City Board to address the ‘Citizens for Change’ petition, which will now likely result in a special June election instead of the Primary election on May 22.
Hope Mayor Steve Montgomery started the session, acknowledging that he and Catherine Cook both received the petition from Blake Montgomery last Thursday at the Tourism Commission meeting.
Almost immediately afterwards, however, Montgomery told the packed gathering, “This meeting is not open for public debate or discussion. This is for the board to review and discuss the petition.”
Montgomery called the petition, which calls for a special referendum to change Hope’s city government from its current City Manager form to an elected Mayor/Council form, “a serious matter, a very important issue.”
As for the petition, Montgomery acknowledged that 104 signatures were gathered — 55 were required — based on a percentage of voters in the last city board election. Montgomery called out three persons as collecting signatures for the petition, including fellow Board member Mark Ross, Kathy Akin, and Blake Montgomery.
“If we were addressing the Wet/Dry issue, which to me is equally important, they would need 3000 signatures; but, that is the law, and we will follow the law,” he said.
As Montgomery and Cook were served the petition last Thursday, Montgomery said city officials only had two days to review the document and verify the signatures; the petition compelled Montgomery to act by Tuesday in time for the May 22 election.
But, instead, Montgomery said that a “Special Election” for the issue to be held the third Tuesday in June was more likely. Ross pointed out that the May 22 election was already happening, and it would not cost the city any money. Ross then questioned the cost to the city of having a “special city-only” election.
Montgomery answered, saying a special city election would cost between $7,500 and $8,500, and then said “We have some private citizens who are concerned enough to pay the cost of the election. This is too important. We need our citizens to study the facts.”
Montgomery neither identified who the private citizens, who were going to fund the election, nor the legality of them doing so.
Montgomery also said city officials needed time to verify that signatures were “obtained correctly” including calling some of the people who signed.
For the first time, Montgomery publicly acknowledged a rift between him and board member Ross, and then said, “This is about changing city government. This is not a referendum on this board, on Catherine Cook, on me. This change is about what happens in Hope long after I’m gone.”
Board member Don Still, who has been on the board 25 years, said “We are here to serve you. I know the public doesn’t always understand how things work. Catherine is a trained professional in running city government, and we direct her and the staff. And, the board is not paid; we are not doing this for the money.”
Still continued saying, “We have good streets,” but was cut off when a man in the audience called out “Jobs. We need jobs,” which drew a response from the crowd.
Still acknowledged saying other similar towns, like Camden, were also competing to get jobs.
The only other Board member to speak, Kiffinea Talley, said “People need to educate themselves on both systems of government.”
Montgomery confirmed with City Attorney Joe Short that the city had a window of 70 days to respond, and he offered up the third Tuesday in June as a possible election date, giving the Hope City Board another two weeks to meet.
The meeting was then adjourned without any other public comment, but afterwards, Citizens for Change spokesperson Blake Montgomery said he didn’t understand why it would take so long to verify 100 signatures with the Hempstead County Clerk’s office.
Blake Montgomery also questioned whether wealthy private citizens can fund special elections.
"This election will turn out to be the wealthy ’Haves’ in this town versus the ‘Have Nots,’ the rest of us," Blake Montgomery said.