Leader Blues

Saturday, March 01, 2008

TOP STORY > >Petition drive falls short

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

A petition drive to recall the ordinance that allowed the city to take over the North Hills golf course through eminent domain has fallen short – for now.

The petition, which is asking that Sherwood set a vote for the people to decide whether or not the city should buy the golf course, was due in the city clerk’s office Tuesday with at least 1,250 signatures.

“We fell short on the signatures,” said Julann Carney, one of the Sherwood residents pushing to recall the ordinance. “But an attorney general’s decision allows us an extra 10 days. So we have until (next) Friday to reach our goal,” she said.

Back in January, the Sherwood City Council voted to condemn and take control of the defunct 106-acre North Hills County Club to prevent it from being developed into a subdivision, which could be costly to the city and to keep a green space presence.

In voting for the use of eminent domain, the council took over the acreage and will soon have to pay for its upkeep and maintenance, and later a jury will decide what is fair market price and the city will have to pay that amount. That amount could be as much as $3 million or more.

Whatever amount the court decides on will be funded through the city’s facilities board, which would go out and get the loan for the court determined cost, which may also include the current owner’s expenses and legal fees, and the city would make monthly mortgage payments on that amount.

“Our group of concerned citizens,” Carney said, “is attempting to allow the voters of Sherwood to decide the fate of the former North Hills property. A great many of us feel very strongly that the city council should have followed the leadership and advice of Mayor Hillman and allowed a public vote on this issue.”

In campaigning for the position of mayor last summer, Hillman said she would love for the city to have the acreage, but only if the citizens wanted it. She felt the residents should vote on the issue, but as a mayor she does not have veto power of the council vote, and in fact may only vote when there is a tie.

Carney said, “Since the condemnation action was voted on by the city council, the only avenue to affect change in this issue is to allow voters to approve or deny condemnation of the property.”

“We’ve had 30 to 45 canvassers who are Sherwood residents actively seeking registered voters’ signatures on this referendum petition drive and will continue to do so through Friday. Our canvassers are at the senior citizens center, nursing homes, area restaurants and businesses, the recreation center, library, and in many neighborhoods,” Carney said.

Alderman Charlie Harmon, who lives near the golf course, has made it clear that a vote was unnecessary and it even usurped the powers and duties of the council.

“We make these tough decisions and are elected by the people to make them. We would go broke if we held special elections all the time,” he said.

Alderman Becki Vassar, who lives near the golf course, called the condemnation vote great for the city. She said that using eminent domain and condemning the property was the “fastest, most economical and most beneficial for all of Sherwood if we were going to have to spend the money anyway.”

“This way we are not looking at 203 homes on the property, but probably not a golf course either, but desired green space. We just need to save it,” the council member said.

Carney and other residents had problems with Harmon, Vassar and others voting on the ordinance.

“The public should be given a voice on this volatile issue instead a handful of politicians whose votes left us with the perception that their motivations were not above board. Every single vote by any governing body should be above reproach and have unimpeachable motivations,” Carney said.

“As a businesswoman, a property owner and real estate investor, I respectfully disagree with usingeminent domain and condemnation proceedings in order to acquire this property. Our group is not attempting to do anything dishonorable or to create controversy. We are exercising our right to referendum afforded to us in Arkansas’ Constitution,” she added.