Atlantic City petition

A petition to change Atlantic City’s form of government obtained more than 3,000 signatures and was submitted to the City Clerk’s Office on Wednesday.

ATLANTIC CITY — A formal petition to change the city’s form of government was submitted Wednesday to the clerk’s office with three times the required number of signatures, likely setting the stage for a voter referendum in early 2020.

Atlantic City Residents for Good Government, a political action committee in favor of altering the government from its current mayor-council form to a council-manager model, obtained 3,033 signatures in support of the effort. The City Clerk’s Office now has 20 days to certify the signatures. Following certification, a special election must be held within 30 days.

“Today marks the true beginning of the rebirth of Atlantic City,” said Bob McDevitt, chairman of the PAC and president of Unite Here Local 54, the casino workers union. “The council-manager form of government will provide streamlined, efficient and morally responsible leadership. By passing this referendum, Atlantic City residents will enjoy safe, clean streets, a balanced budget, lower property taxes and smart growth which will result in new development that will raise the living standards of all Atlantic City residents.”

Mayor Marty Small Sr. has been a vocal opponent of the change of government, stating at a press conference in June (while he was still council president) that the petition effort was an attempt to “undermine local government” and “usurp” the authority of duly elected officials. On Wednesday, Small said he was not concerned.

“We’re not going to be distracted with these minor distractions,” Small said Wednesday. “I know in my heart of hearts that the good people of Atlantic City are not for sale.”

Under state law, the petition needed signatures equaling 15% of the voter turnout in the last general election, or 935 registered voters. In order for the referendum results to be valid, at least 30% of the turnout in the last general election, or 1,870 people, must cast ballots.

The Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act of 2016 — the legislation that placed Atlantic City under state oversight for five years — allows for successful referendum efforts to be treated as advisory, meaning the state agency in charge of the city, the Department of Community Affairs, has the authority to reject a ballot decision regardless of the electorate’s choice.

The petition group is seeking to change the makeup of government to a council-manager form implemented under the 1923 Municipal Manager Law. The change would reduce the number of council members from nine to five and eliminate a directly elected mayor. Under the 1923 council-manager form, nonpartisan elections would be held in May and at-large elected officials would serve four-year terms beginning in July.

Rather than an elected mayor serving as the city’s chief executive, a certified municipal manager would be hired by the governing body to oversee the day-to-day operations of the city, including preparing a budget, negotiating contracts and handling most personnel matters.

A mayor would be selected annually from among the at-large council members and preside over public meetings.

McDevitt, former state Sen. Ray Lesniak, Resorts Casino Hotel owner Morris Bailey, Resorts CEO/President Mark Giannantonio and local attorney Dan Gallagher have all worked, in some capacity, to support the petition. Bailey has contributed more than $126,000 to the PAC, according to filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. Labor unions from across the state, including Iron Workers Local 399, the union for which Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, serves as general vice president, have also donated to Atlantic City Residents for Good Government.

Kurt R. Krueger Jr., business manager of Local 322 representing plumbers and pipefitters, said business investors have been holding back on coming into Atlantic City for “far too long because of the unstable government.”

“This new form of government will help Atlantic City tremendously,” Krueger said. “We can keep sitting on the sidelines, hoping for a change, or we can get out in front of it and make it happen. This will be the first of many steps to help Atlantic City come back. The building trades are all on board.”

Contact: 609-272-7222

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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