THE INDEPENDENT NEWS
COURTHOUSE — After a series of discussions about extending light rail and the controversy that surrounds the effort, the City Council on Tuesday, March 15, backed away from supporting either a referendum question suggested by Councilmember Bob Dyer or another proposal to endorse the ongoing grassroots effort to place such a question on the ballot in November.
John Atkinson, the city treasurer and leader of the referendum petition effort, on Friday, March 18, said the group No Light Rail plans to deliver its petitions to the court on Monday, March 21.
“I feel that we have more than enough,” he said.
The group has 32,440 signatures in hand and notarized, he said, and an additional 2,000 signatures may be delivered to the court later. He said they needed about 16,500 votes to get the question on the ballot.
Regarding inaction Tuesday at City Hall, Atkinson said the council, overall, has placed the responsibility to get the question before voters on the citizens participating in the effort.
“They’re forcing it on us, and we’re going to take it on,” the treasurer said. “We’re going to do it.”
He added that No Light Rail supporters plan to be at the government center on Tuesday, April 5, when the council is expected to consider an agreement to ensure steps toward light rail continue with the state.
Dyer, who represents the Centerville District, added a motion to support the citizen effort to the agenda on Tuesday, but ultimately removed it after discussion and a request by Councilmember John Moss, a fellow critic of light rail, that he remove it.
During discussion, Moss also noted, “The referendum is the council election itself. That’s the real referendum.”
Other members of the city council expressed concern about everything from wording of the referendum question, conflict with the previous referendum language supportive of pursuing light rail, and, as has been expressed a number of times, the lack of information that will not arrive until spring 2017.
“How can you make a reasonable decision if you don’t know the cost?” asked Councilmember Ben Davenport, who serves at large.
Councilmember Jim Wood, who represents the Lynnhaven District, said he would not support Dyer’s motion. A potential referendum might make more sense after May 2017, he noted.
Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, also addressed the information that would come well after a fall referendum, and she referred to the previous light rail referendum, too.
“Why would we stop that process when we’re doing what the voters asked us to do?” she said.
Dyer discussed divisions in the council and the city over the issue. Dyer has discussed for months putting a question on the ballot.
He stressed the goal of including public discussion in the decision. He said putting forward a second referendum question, as he had proposed earlier, might “hijack” the citizen question on the petitions.
“I would ask my good friend – it would be best if you consider withdrawing the motion,” Moss said.
“If they’re successful, and it appears they are, there’s going to be a referendum,” Mayor Will Sessoms said.
“If one thing has been accomplished,” Dyer said, “we had a long overdue conversation.”
And he withdrew it.
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