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Sides square off in looming battle over voters' rights on bonds

Staff writer

Monday’s Marion city council meeting turned into a battle between council members who want to bypass voter approval of borrowing and taxpayers who want to preserve their rights.

At one point, Mayor David Mayfield and Darvin Markley, who circulated a petition against a charter ordinance the council passed earlier this year, talked over each other for at least two minutes.

Mayfield then reminded Markley about a five-minute time limit for public comment.

 “I’ll shut up,” Markley said.

“OK, that’d be nice,” Mayfield said.

Markley told the council that it could drop the charter ordinance altogether and save money by not forcing an election.

Mayfield barked back that he found it interesting that Markley pushed for an election and now is saying the city should just drop the ordinance.

The meeting started with council member Ruth Herbel asking to amend the meeting agenda to allow public comment before a vote. Until recently, the council scheduled two public comment sessions each meeting — one at the beginning, and one at the end.  

Council member Jerry Kline backed Herbel, also voting to amend the agenda. They were outvoted by Mayfield and council members Zach Collett and Chris Costello.  

People who filled the council’s meeting room shook their heads.

Mayfield insisted the council never had had two public comment sessions at its biweekly meetings. A survey of agendas shows that to be false. The council had two sessions at meetings for eight years from switching to one in mid-August.

City administrator Mark Skiles told the council sufficient certified signatures were on the petition delivered to city hall Oct. 5.

He said officials were waiting to hear from the state about a possible date for an election. 

He recommended that the council delay action on an ordinance calling for an election “until we can get those dates and come back to you.”

Mayfield moved to do so. Collett seconded his motion. With no discussion, the council voted 5-0 to defer action.

 Then it was time for citizens to chime in.

Peggy Blackman, who was mayor from 1977 to 1986, questioned why city officials would circumvent voters, noting that “I have never in my recall known of a bond issue that has failed when the citizens have been asked to vote on anything.”

She referenced a $500,000 bond issue voters approved during her time as mayor for the city’s water supply. That likely would cost $2 million today. It easily passed, she said, because “we got out and sold it.”

 “You’re taking our voice away from us,” Blackman said, representing those in the audience who had signed the petition.

 Blackman and Mayfield went back-and-forth about how a city sales tax could be used. Mayfield insisted it only could go toward economic development and because of that, the city needed another funding source for roads and other improvements. Markley later disputed that claim.

 At one point, Mayfield agreed that roads were important to economic development.

But then he continued his argument that the city could not use the sales tax for roads and other improvements.

Mayfield told Blackman that “thanks to Darvin,” a petition would allow the “rest of the public to vote on” borrowing.

 Markley said he asked 84 people to sign the petition and had only two people decline to do so.  

 “You can drop this,” he told Mayfield.

Pointing to those seated behind him, Markley said: “I’m sure all these people out here are for roads and sidewalks.”

Mayfield said the council would listen to its bond counsel, Gilmore Bell, which wrote the city’s charter ordinance bypassing an election.

“That’s who we’ll listen to,” Mayfield told Markley. “Your five minutes are up. We’re done.”

 

Last modified Oct. 19, 2022

 

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