Petition creates stir in town of St. Joseph
When it comes to "what's legal," it may not amount to much, but a petition in the town of St. Joseph seems to have the political pots boiling.
The petition is being circulated by a group of people, led by St. Joe resident Joan Gerhan. It takes general aim at the St. Joe board and committee actions, and more specific aim at town Chair Teresa Johnson and a committee she chairs - the Facilities Committee.
"We have to reign in the town board, especially the chair (Johnson)," said Gerhan. "The spending has got to stop."
Johnson counters that there is nothing illegal going on.
"Everything the committee and board have done is legal," Johnson said. "This is more of a political attempt aimed at me and some of our board members."
At the root of the petition is the town's investigation into building an estimated $200,000 addition onto the town hall. Town citizens approved an expansion of the fire hall, but last November voted down the town hall expansion. In fact, citizens have three times thwarted efforts to approve the town hall addition.
Gerhan, however, believes Johnson continues efforts to get the project ultimately approved. Johnson chairs a five-member Facilities Committee. The committee continues to investigate a possible expansion - an expansion, according to Johnson, that is needed and was recognized in a facilities study.
"Citizens have voted "no" three times for this addition and now this Facilities Committee is trying to get this through the back door," Gerhan said.
In the petition, organizers call for a "cease and desist all discussions of remodeling" regarding the town hall. The petition also asks that the engineer involved in the process must be authorized by the full town board.
Another petition point asks that any money left in the fire hall project be used on road repairs.
"Nothing should go on without the direction of the board," Gerhan said.
Johnson, however, said that no money has been spent on engineering the town hall project.
"We have not been charged for any engineering work done on the town hall project," Johnson said. "They don't start charging until after a project is approved."
The petition also asks for the dismantling of the Facilities Committee after the fire hall project is completed.
"There is no need for this committee," Gerhan said. "The Planning Commission should do the long-range planning."
Johnson said the committee, which was approved by the board and formed in the spring of 2008, has a specific mission: to develop a set of policies, programs and needs assessment designed to maximize the operational and financial value of the town's buildings and land, and recommend future needs, purchases of land and/or building to meet the goals.
"The committee did an inventory of property, toured the facilities and made a list of strengths and deficiencies," Johnson said. In addition to Johnson, the committee has one other board member, the fire chief and two citizen members.
"We make recommendations to the board and the board can do what they want," Johnson said.
When it comes to capital improvement projects, however, citizens have the final say. That vote comes at either the annual meeting (April of this year) or a special meeting (like the one held in November 2009).
The petition has several other points, most dealing with Johnson's involvement in the building process and making sure the board is involved in every step of the process. That is something Johnson claims is already happening.
"Hopefully this petition will get the attention of the board," Gerhan said. "The petition has been well-received so far by the citizens."
She said there are currently 13 people circulating the petition throughout the town. The plan is to bring the petitions to the March 4 town meeting.
Johnson, who has been town chair for seven years, won a close contest in April 2009, defeating Kevin Adkins 221-197.
Adkins, who is a member of the town's planning commission, is running in the April 6 election against incumbent Dan Gavin for the First Supervisor post. In the Third Supervisor post, incumbent Brett Bader is being challenged by Brian Gullickson.