ATLANTIC CITY — Residents and activists crowded City Hall’s lobby Wednesday afternoon to illustrate the support they’ve gathered against the state takeover.
With signs such as “Water is a human right” and “Our water, our voice,” about 20 people walked into the city Clerk’s Office to deliver 2,400 signatures — 1,200 were required — on a petition aiming to force a vote on the sale of the Municipal Utilities Authority.
“This is a culmination of a year’s effort in meeting our goal,” said Charles Goodman, a member of the Atlantic City NAACP.
The groups went around the city and knocked on doors to circulate the petitions for the past several months.
Mayor Don Guardian spoke in favor of the petition Wednesday, adding that the cost of water for the city could increase if the MUA is privatized.
“The people of Atlantic City own their water,” he said. “It’s critical that before any action can happen with this water company, it needs to go before the people of Atlantic City.”
There’s the possibility that the petition, if validated, may not have an effect. The Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act — the state takeover law — states initiatives and referendums are advisory only and “may be followed, or disregarded” by state officials in charge.
And state officials have urged the city to dissolve the MUA to make money.
But City Council has pulled or voted down measures to do so before the state took over in November.
The takeover law gave city officials until late May before the state could take action on the MUA.
Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, said in a statement that the state has not taken action on the MUA and has not reached a conclusion on what will be next.
“We’re focusing on other issues at this time, and our results are having a positive impact on the City,” Ryan said.
Council President Marty Small said regardless of the outcome, the citizens have stepped up and spoken to take ownership of the water utility.
Lena Smith of Food & Water Watch led the group into City Clerk Paula Geletei’s office, placing the pile of signatures on the desk.
“We would like to submit these petition signatures for an ordinance to ensure public participation in Atlantic City’s decision making,” she said.
Geletei began stamping the petitions and would issue a receipt to the group.
Carol Ruffu, who distributed the petitions, along with two other community advocates, spoke before City Council during the public comment portion urging council members to support denying the sale of the MUA.
Linda Steele of the Atlantic City chapter of the NAACP said this effort is a testament to saving the city’s water and saving the city.
“What will happen if it’s privatized? We will be left with few resources to rebuild,” Steele said.