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Reversion referendum is at issue
Request to have state require a vote opposed
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
A Martinsville City Council member’s request that a state senator introduce legislation that would require the city to put the reversion proposal to a vote is being resisted by Mayor Kim Adkins.
Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, said Monday he is considering the request by Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge. However, he said he would like to find ways to help Martinsville overcome financial challenges that do not involve giving up its independent city status and becoming a town in Henry County.
By becoming a town, a recent study showed, Martinsville would save up to $28 million a year because the county would take over certain government functions — including schools — that now are the city’s responsibility.
But that would result in additional expenses for the county, which could mean higher taxes for county residents, the study indicated.
In a recent email, Hodge told other council members that she asked Stanley to introduce, when the General Assembly reconvenes in January, legislation that would require Martinsville to hold a referendum on reversion.
Hodge and Councilman Danny Turner have publicly expressed support for a referendum.
For a binding referendum on reversion to be held, both the state House and Senate would have to approve legislation to that effect, and the governor would have to sign it into law, according to City Attorney Eric Monday.
Adkins sent Stanley an email on Sunday, asking him to reconsider Hodge’s request for three reasons.
For one thing, Adkins wrote, “If the city were to decide to file a petition with the Commission on Local Government to consider reversion, the decision to go to a referendum should be a decision of council, not the state’s telling us (to) do so.”
For another, “I believe in representative government,” she wrote. City voters elected council members “to research and do the heavy lifting if needed on what we view is in the best (interest) of the city,” she added.
“If at the end of the day our citizens aren’t happy with our decisions, they can vote us out” of office, she added.
And finally, Adkins wrote, Hodge “has already said that she doesn’t support reverting.”
“I am undecided,” Adkins told Stanley, adding that “I am not a fan of using perceived political maneuvers such as this to create a desired outcome.”
Hodge said in a phone interview that Adkins’ assertion that she does not support reverting was inaccurate. She said she is not necessarily opposed. Rather, she is opposed to considering reversion “without looking at all the potential consequences up front,” she said.
For instance, reversion would be a permanent move that could not be reversed, Hodge said.
“Citizens need to have a voice” in the consideration process, she said.
“I don’t feel comfortable ... with the way that Kim is handling this,” Hodge said, adding that she thinks Adkins may not be taking residents’ sentiments into account as much as she should.
Also, “I think the process is moving way too quickly,” Hodge said.
During its meeting last Tuesday, the council heard public comments on the reversion proposal. Hodge recalled, though, that the comment time was held during a holiday week when people’s minds may have been on other things.
The council plans to hold another reversion comment time during its next meeting on Dec. 10.
In a phone interview, Stanley said he had not yet read Adkins’ email. When told by the Martinsville Bulletin of its contents, he responded “Wow!”
He said he has not yet asked legislative officials to prepare a draft of a bill calling for a reversion referendum, but “I’m looking ... into the idea.”
“Consideration of reversion is a very serious matter,” Stanley said. “It is not a decision that I think is best left to the consideration of the people on the city council” entirely. Residents should have a say, too, he said.
Stanley said he has talked with three council members about their positions on a reversion referendum, and two of the three — Hodge and Turner — are supportive. He would not identify the other member with whom he spoke.
In her email, Adkins told Stanley she understands that Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, and Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, plan to introduce similar legislation on behalf of Henry County that would force a referendum in both the city and county. She said she hopes they will reconsider.