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Will the City Do the Right Thing and Verify Some Signatures?

Petitions requesting annexation in Area B-1 are compromised. Will the City take time to verify signatories' intent when they signed them? If not, the City's own credibility could be weakened.

What a mess.

While they went to the same Oct. 22 city commission meeting as I and many of you did – the one about annexation – it seems some of my neighbors walked away with a completely different understanding of the City of Decatur’s process for addressing the expansion of its borders.

Yesterday, one of my neighbors called me to say that several residents representing the pro-annexation side had dropped by her house hoping to get her signature. They assured her that their petition was not to give a nod to annexation itself; rather, it was only to request a vote on annexation. Since then, I’ve heard from or about four neighbors who had the same experience. Sign their petition, they've been told, and you’ll send the issue to a vote next year.

Now we have some residents of Springdale Heights, in Area B-1, who might have thought they had plenty of time to make up their mind about annexation by simply signing this group’s papers. But the movement is now. The City of Decatur wants to know now whether or not to move forward with a costly referendum in 2013.

So, what we have in Springdale Heights, intentionally or otherwise, is a failure to communicate the proper intent of the petitions. One simply is for annexation; another is against annexation. If the COD only wanted to know how many among us want to vote later on the issue, certainly one petition would have sufficed (or, a simple show of hands at that Oct. 22 meeting).

As should be expected, the breakdown in communication has its defenders. Generally speaking, the argument is made that nothing has been misrepresented, but clear fear – that the city will remove Area B-1 from consideration for annexation if it is not put to a vote – accompanies it.

One pro-annexation neighbor put it this way after I, admittedly, questioned the group's intent: “If there isn't a majority support for annexation in our neighborhood, then neighbors won't have an opportunity to vote next year, because if C.O.D decides to pursue annexation, they would take our neighborhood out of the area of consideration, as they have no interest in pursuing our neighborhood if there isn't majority interest in being annexed.”

Another pro-annexation neighbor stated, “If someone is on the fence now, they could sign yes, and not lock themselves out of an option later. This doesn’t set anything in stone.”

But that’s not the process the City intended, and the process is now compromised. One can only hope the City doesn’t suggest a vote is needed, after all, to clear up the confusion. What a slap in the face to my anti-annexation neighbors that would be; they'd never trust the City again, even if as residents. Plus, I have seen their stack of signatures, both impressive and correctly obtained.

So, how is this resolved? The deadline for turning in the petitions is today, so I’m challenging City Manager Peggy Merriss to have her staff take a couple of hours out of the next several weeks to verify signatures on the pro-annexation petitions for Area B-1. Did those residents intend to approve annexation now, or were they only interested in buying time to decide?

As another neighbor (who is against annexation) said, “No one made this issue up. It has happened and it is NOT good. Either by accident or intent, it reflects poorly on the efforts of the pro camp who I believe are perfectly honest people who would like to be assured ALL their efforts are above board.”

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kevin Polite November 06, 2012 at 06:18 PM
I'm quite sure it was by design. I believe the pro annexation in all the areas didn't realize how vocal and strongly the seniors in those areas where against the annexation. No2Decatur spoke with over 100+ seniors and every single one of them signed and lead us to others they knew who couldn't get out and helped us get their signatures. We know seniors vote, but they are so angry that no one every came and asked them how they felt. If it comes to a vote I believe it will voted against.
J November 06, 2012 at 09:20 PM
During the City Commission meeting last month both the Mayor and Ms. Merriss indicated they wanted the annexation effort to be a fair and transparent process. I live in this neighborhood as well and I also have been told by some of my neighbors that the issue was indeed represented in the way Molly has described. I called upon my pro-annexation neighbors via the neighborhood Facebook thread to investigate this. So far it appears that no one on the pro-annexation side is willing to do so – in fact many defend, if not the action, then the result – as a signature for annexation, regardless of how it was obtained. I see that as a distinction without a difference. Wrong is wrong. The end does not justify the means. I can only repeat Molly’s call to the Mayor and Ms. Merriss to demonstrate their good character and uphold the principles of fairness and transparency to which I’m sure they subscribe and verify the signatures for Area B1.
fedup November 07, 2012 at 02:26 PM
molly, clmb back off the ledge or jump, but stop with the crazy hate-mongering and divisiveness. We've had enough!
no2Decatur November 07, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Fedup: so then you don't deny your tactics? I've noticed that about folks like @fedup. they never answer your questions directly and never intectually argue their point of view, but, instead just revert to name calling.
Molly Badgett November 07, 2012 at 03:24 PM
That's obviously one of my neighbors. They hate that someone has discovered -- and that MANY are angry about -- their putting a win over winning fairly. I've had several neighbors tell me the entire story about the approach made to them. They felt the pro-annexation person was aggressive to the point of rude, and now, knowing that the petition they were asked to sign was misrepresented, they are truly angry. It's so amazing that no one will own up to what they've done. Perhaps the City can sort it out, legitimately and fairly.
no2Decatur November 07, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I'm encouraged by Chamblee rejecting annexation. Perhaps COD took notice and will not pursue further annexation.
easydoesit November 07, 2012 at 05:01 PM
This is something else. I hope the COD can make it right. There are people who are mostly young who want to be in the city but bought in the county but in the case of my neighbors they don't seem to care about people who have lived there for years and years. Getting people to sign yes to annexation by telling them it only means there will be a vote later isn't right. Like J said the city was pretty clear about it at that meeting.
fedup November 08, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Molly - I am *not* a neighbor of yours (thank goodness), but have been watching your machinations. You have way too much time on your hands for trouble-making. So - I don't have anything to 'own up to'. And - who made you "principal" of the neighborhood, anyway? megalomania much??
annexmenow November 08, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Molly - what is wrong with a vote? If you truly are defending the interests of the neighborhood, wouldn't you think we should respect the decisions of the majority of our neighbors?
Molly Badgett November 08, 2012 at 03:52 AM
I know, I know. Silly me, wanting an important issue like this to be handled legitimately and fairly.
Patcher November 08, 2012 at 04:44 AM
i'm confused. you say that one of your neighbors said “If there isn't a majority support for annexation in our neighborhood, then neighbors won't have an opportunity to vote next year, because if C.O.D decides to pursue annexation, they would take our neighborhood out of the area of consideration, as they have no interest in pursuing our neighborhood if there isn't majority interest in being annexed.” But isn't that the case? If so then what exactly is the problem?
easydoesit November 08, 2012 at 05:34 AM
Hate to be the one to tell you, but I think that you gave yourself away as a neighbor of hers because before you said "WE've had enough"! Nice try tho.
mark fleming November 08, 2012 at 12:44 PM
I dont like the way this has been handled. Particularly the crafty way they have got signatures for annexation. Thank God for someone like Molly in the neighborhood, who is watching out for us and alerting people to these sort of tactics.
annexmenow November 08, 2012 at 01:13 PM
What's unfair about a vote that the entire neighborhood can participate in? We do live in a democracy.
Molly Badgett November 08, 2012 at 01:43 PM
First, thanks for not attacking me; I appreciate a simple question. As already said, the ends don't justify the means. So, I could ask you the same thing, "Shouldn't we respect the decisions of the majority of our neighbors voiced in petitions that are presented to them accurately?" A "vote" is being taken NOW -- NOW, via petitions; this is how the City is handling things, and one side of the "ballot" was falsified. Changing the rules is not the same as following the rules. One neighbor said the person who came to her house repeated several times, EMPHATICALLY, that despite the header on the petition, it was only to get the issue to a vote. Also, many residents of Springdale Heights are elderly. Asking them to get to the polls -- if they're here next year, which also raises my suspicions -- is burdensome to them. Finally, and most important. If an overwhelming number of people -- even through coercion -- are seen to be favoring annexation, the City could bypass a vote and head straight to the state legislature for approval. Now, do you think THAT'S fair to those who only signed the pro-annexation petition when it was misrepresented as only allowing them more time? Do you see the problems now? It's serious, and it's just wrong. I'm still amazed that the action is being defended, and with such hatred toward me. I get it. I'm the opposition. But I'm only trying to level the playing field. That's all.
Molly Badgett November 08, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Please read my comment made in response to "annexmenow," above. The city is finding the majority NOW, through petitions. Falsifying the petitions is falsifying the "ballot" being used NOW.
Molly Badgett November 08, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Gee, ask the City of Decatur; it's the one who wrote the rules (before they were rewritten in the minds of one side). The petitions ARE a "vote" the entire neighborhood can participate in!
Attic's a changing November 08, 2012 at 02:10 PM
fedup, I am always amazed at what folks think is OK to write in a post, and usually that poster hides behind a fake name. Let's be a little more polite to our neighbors, even if you do not physically live near them. Why not engage Molly is a debate on what she is posting about rather than throwing insults? Molly, I think you should run for office. I applaud you yet again for posting about this issue and for clarification I already live in CoD. It is clear to me that you merely want a fair approach to annexation and my guess is you would move on with whatever outcome came out fairly. Please keep up the effort, you are doing the right thing for the right reasons.
J November 08, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Although the COD does need to verify B1 signatures, this issue isn’t at its’ core about a vote or even annexation itself as much as it is about ethics. It is one thing to see dishonest behavior on the news; it’s quite distressing to see it happening next door. I have lived in Springdale Heights for a long time and I know my pro-annexation friends and neighbors to be honest, fair-minded people – they did not sign up for ANY misrepresentation to be perpetrated in their name or to their benefit. ANNEXMENOW says “What's unfair about a vote that the entire neighborhood can participate in? We do live in a democracy.” His/her second statement answers the first quite well. We do live in a democratic republic where each of us should be able to state our position on any issue via speech, signature on a petition or a vote. But it should be OUR position, not the one someone misleads us into. What is being missed or maybe just ignored by some on this post and the very few in my neighborhood is that an important part of the democratic process is to present an issue truthfully, honestly and in a straightforward manner. The focus here should be on the ethics - unless you really ARE teaching your kids the end justifies the means.
annexmenow November 08, 2012 at 04:50 PM
I would have to disagree that the petition is "falsified". It is true that there will be a vote next year if the petition is signed by a majority, and Decatur wants to annex the area. The very fact that a majority signed (not sure if that happened) means the neighborhood as a whole wants a vote. I don't think your argument that it is too much trouble for people to get to the polls is valid. The public is routinely asked to vote on such issues, as most of us did on Tuesday. We probably won't ever change each others' minds, but I think the notion that the City Manager needs to verify each signature isn't going to happen in reality.
Molly Badgett November 08, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Question for you, annexmenow: Imagine if a few pro-annexers got with a few anti-annexers, and they canvassed the neighborhood together with BOTH petitions and said, "We have two petitions here: one is in favor of annexation, and one is against annexation. Please sign which one you prefer to sign and we'll turn in both petitions." And lo, it came to pass that the petitions were turned in, blessed by both groups as representative of the neighbors' voices. Would you have had a problem with that approach?
annexmenow November 08, 2012 at 09:13 PM
J, I never thought that the pro-annexation petition was presented in a dishonest way. I don't believe that to be the case. Bottom line...If someone didn't want to sign, they didn't have to. Same thing if it comes to a vote, you can vote for, against, or not at all. Molly, If someone is in favor of annexation, of course they will try to present their case when looking for signatures. Since I am in favor of annexation, why would I lobby or work for the other side's cause? This is the exact same as you are attempting do with your web site and petition.
Molly Badgett November 08, 2012 at 10:42 PM
OK, let me try this question since you didn't answer the first: If an overwhelming number of people are seen by the City to be favoring annexation, the City could very well bypass a vote and head straight to the state legislature for approval. Now, do you think THAT would be fair to those who only signed the pro-annexation petition when it was (mis)represented as only allowing them more time to think about it? Please, stop denying the misrepresentation happened. Too many people were clearly -- emphatically -- told to disregard the header on the petition, that it was only to send the issue to a vote. They are real people; neighbors. One of them signed it under that pretense, it was turned in with others, and had it not been for yet another person calling me to verify the city's use of those petitions, we could very well be on our way to annexation -- even with a majority AGAINST IT! All because of the sad strategy by a few. I have run out of lights to shine on this. I'll hope the city manager does the right thing by verifying those signatures.
Molly Badgett November 08, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Hey, Peggy Merriss! If you happen to be reading this, I should've said before that the verification would only need to be of those properties in either of the blues (light or dark) on the map I provided to you with our anti-annexation petitions. The green and pink properties are accurately defined. :-)
easydoesit November 09, 2012 at 02:51 PM
i am so surprised how the pro annexation people keep dancing around the fact that they told their neighbors who signed their petition the wrong thing like it didn't matter. I have a friend who lives there and does not want to be annexed, I wonder if she signed the petition they took around.
Nada for it November 14, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Thank you Molly for all you have done to fight annexation! I'm finally retiring and will be on a fixed income and a big tax hike would be bad for me. Once I get to age 70 I won't have to pay for the school tax. If we get taken in by the city, I'm stuck paying until I'm 80! That will be true for all of us. I've been here 23 years and do not wish to be in the city.Decatur has one of the highest tax rates in the state. Why would I want that?

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