Meridian Star

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June 13, 2013

Bond issue petition falls short of goal

MERIDIAN —     Petitioners seeking to call for an election on a proposed $14 million bond issue have fallen short of needed signatures.

    After weeks of pouring through nearly 200 pages of  petitions, officials learned there were 1,338 valid signatures that could be counted. At least 1,500 signatures are needed to force a referendum on a bond issue.

    The Lauderdale County Circuit Clerk's Office finished the process of verifying signatures Wednesday, according to Donna Jill Johnson, circuit clerk.

    The Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors has proposed the bond issue for city and county recreation projects, as well as courthouse renovations. But numerous people oppose the bond issue for a variety of reasons and wanted the decision to be left up to voters.

    The board first voted for the bond issue in early April, passing it in a 3-2 vote. Voting in favor were Hank Florey, District 1 supervisor and board president; Josh Todd, District 3; and Joe Norwood, District 4. Those opposing the bond issue were District 2 Supervisor Wayman Newell and Kyle Rutledge, District 5.

    In the following weeks, a debate over the bond issue brought both supporters and opponents to the forefront, prompting a petition drive in which opponents of the bond issue gathered 1,554 names. More signatures came in later, but were not counted because they missed the deadline.

    Johnson's office was tasked with verifying the signatures of the petitions.

    "Out of 186 pages turned in, some of the pages were full, some had just one name on them," Johnson said. "Some signatures were not legible, and some were people who signed more than once."

    In some instances, a spouse signed for his or her spouse, which is not allowed, Johnson said. Also, a total of 19 people filed affidavits asking that their names be removed from the petitions. Johnson said the signatures were legally certified by her and Chancery Clerk Carolyn Mooney, and turned over to the county's administrator's office on Wednesday.

    Florey said the matter is likely to come up when the board meets on Monday. Although the petition drive did not succeed, the board could call for a referendum anyway. But Florey said that  would not happen.

    "No, that's out. They didn't get enough signatures," Florey said. "It's also $30,000 to hold an election. I'm not going to vote to spend that kind of money on a referendum."

    To those who oppose the bond issue, Florey said he understands their concerns.

    "They made an effort," he said. "I understand that everybody has their own opinion. I don't get mad at them because they have a different opinion. If people have that opinion, that' s fine. There's two sides to everything."

    The board of supervisors' second meeting of the month is usually held on the third Monday at 5 p.m. However, the upcoming meeting on June 17 is scheduled for 9 a.m.

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