ATLANTIC CITY — The president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called the state takeover of the resort a "national issue", on Thursday.
NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks, along with city union leaders, the Atlantic City MUA and members of the Food and Water Works held a 1 p.m. news conference in council chambers.
"Why is NAACP here in Atlantic City? ... because we understand water rights are civil rights and civil rights are human rights," Brooks said.
At the event, Brooks expressed support for city workers who stand to lose jobs or have their pay cut.
The event highlighted the local branch’s petition drive to force a referendum on any sale or lease of the city’s water authority.
Residents and activists launched a campaign last month to circulate two related petitions.
One would initiate an ordinance to ensure residents receive the same right to referendum that would be afforded to them absent a state takeover. The other preemptively protests a possible decision to sell or lease the water system to a private company through the Water Infrastructure Protection Act. It requests a referendum before privatization takes place.
The takeover law, the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act, rendered initiatives and referendums as advisory only, saying they “may be followed, or disregarded” by state officials in charge of the city’s finances.
Those organizing the petition drive have acknowledged the law’s language but describe the proposal as a political statement. They need 1,500 signatures to initiate the ordinance but are seeking 5,000 signatures.
The Municipal Utilities Authority became a focal point in the fight against the state takeover last year. State officials urged the cash-strapped city to dissolve the MUA to make money off it. But council pulled or voted down measures to do so five times before the state took over major decision-making powers in November.
Residents fear rate hikes and a loss of local control if the authority is sold.
The takeover law gave city officials until late May to “maximize the value” of the water system before the state could do it for them.