BRIGANTINE — A petition that would have brought a proposal to change the city’s form of government before voters this November is invalid, city officials determined Wednesday.
The petitioners failed to properly word the petition question, to provide affidavits from circulators attached to the signatures and to obtain the necessary 1,415 signatures, a memo signed by City Clerk Lynn Sweeney states.
Organizers of the citizens group Respectable Government for Brigantine vow to continue their push for reform, but some officials say they don’t believe there’s enough time to bring the petition into compliance with state law.
The petition, submitted to Sweeney’s office earlier this month, called for a referendum to revert the city to a three-member commission form of government, in which elected officials would oversee individual departments. A similar movement in 1989 led to the city abandoning that form for the manager and seven-member council it currently has.
“There are too many people who want to see this move forward for us to throw our hands up,” said Frank Koch, president of Respectable Government.
Sweeney, in an interview Wednesday, said the group has 10 days to resubmit its petition materials. Once that happens, her office has another five days to verify.
“If a judge says we’re wrong and that the way they have it is OK, then it would go to a special election,” she said. “As it stands now, I can’t accept it that way.”
The city’s attorney reviewed the submitted petition and found that the five affidavits — which certify that the signee was present at the time signatures were collected — were not submitted with their corresponding pages, Sweeney said.
Meanwhile, a number of signatures were thrown out for various reasons, such as those of nonresidents. That meant only 1,214 valid signatures had been submitted.
Democratic Councilman Rick DeLucry, who examined the petition independently of the clerk, said that while the group could probably collect the necessary signatures in the allotted time, the procedural issues were probably “fatal flaws.”
Koch said he hadn’t seen the memo as of 6 p.m. Wednesday but was optimistic his group could address the issues in a timely manner.
“We did everything, we felt, by the book, so that’s going to be questioned,” he said. “The wording of the question — these are technicalities. They’re grasping at straws at this point, as far as I’m concerned.”
Mayor Phil Guenther, a Republican who signed the petition, said there’s enough of a mandate that he believes the referendum will eventually move forward, even if it doesn’t make it in time for the November ballot.
“It’s telling that 1,400 people signed a petition to change the form of government,” he said. “I think there’s a strong statement by registered voters and others who are newly registered that they’re not happy with the way their government is functioning.”
Anne Phillips, of the Brigantine Taxpayers Association, said her group — which ran newspaper advertisements opposing the petition — is “glad and relieved” that it was found deficient.
“We believe ... its purpose was highly politicized and not in the best interest of the people in Brigantine,” she said, adding that the commision is a “discredited and bad form of government.”
The referendum's advocates say a commission would streamline governance, shorten meetings and eliminate the ward system of geographical representation. Opponents such as Phillips say it would place too much power in the hands of a few people, creating opportunities for corruption and mismanagement.
Koch said his group had continued to collect signatures after submitting the petition and believes the minimum number will be met. As for the other objections, he said, they will be examined to see whether they are valid.
“We are optimistic about this, and we’ll continue to push ahead,” he said.
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