City Council schedules Chestnut Street election scheduled April 8 by David Lias The final bit of business conducted at the Vermillion City Council's Tuesday meeting was the approval of a motion setting April 8 as the election date for the Chestnut Street referendum.
One of the first items of business of the meeting also dealt with Chestnut Street � in the form of a statement from Lynette Melby, one of the property owners along the street.
She urged the council to set an election date rather than appeal a recent judge's ruling calling for a public vote on the project.
She also sharply criticized Mayor Roger Kozak.
"On Feb. 5, the taxpayers and citizens of Vermillion won a long and hard fought battle for their civil rights � for their voting rights," she told the council. "Let there be no doubt, what happened in that courtroom wasn't about Chestnut Street, and it wasn't about condemning land. It was about the sacred right to vote."
Melby was referring to a Feb. 5 hearing held at the Clay County Courthouse. The court action concluded with a ruling from Circuit Court Judge Glen Eng ordering a public vote on the Chestnut Street project.
Melby, her husband, Neil, and her sister, Jeanette Stone, were petitioners at the hearing. City officials were respondents.
After hearing testimony from both sides, Eng ruled that December 2000 action by the city council to advertise for bids for the street project was legislative in nature, and, therefore, referable.
The city, following the advice of City Attorney Martin Weeks, had refused to schedule an election after citizens filed petitions in January 2001. According to Weeks, the city's actions were administrative in nature, and weren't subject to the referendum process.
"Yes, the city can appeal the judge's decision, but hopefully this council and mayor will spend no more taxpayer dollars to deny the taxpayer the right to vote," Melby said. "Enough is enough."
She noted that it's the petitioners' understanding that the city might still try to condemn the private property needed for the Chestnut Street project before the public vote.
"When we tell people that the city may take court action and spend taxpayers' dollars for land that the city may never need, taxpayers are incredulous," Melby said.
She told aldermen that there could be only one reason that they would vote Tuesday to continue the condemnation actions � vindictiveness.
"You didn't lose in that courtroom," she said. "It was the taxpayers who won."
Melby noted that the city's continued pursuit of the street project through condemnation would cost her and other property owners thousands of dollars to battle in the courts.
"We have a mayor who would spend tens of thousands of dollars in order to see the homeowners get little or nothing for their land," she said. "We have a mayor who will go to any length to win."
Melby said it is time for healing and time to let voters decide the fate of the Chestnut Street project.
"It's time that this council does what's fair and right for the taxpayers," she said.
She urged aldermen not to be persuaded by Kozak if he pushes for condemnation.
"Has Mayor Kozak finally convinced you, as he's said over and over, that you're a team and he's the coach, and to question the coach is just not done?
"You know that when we went into that election booth, we didn't elect a team," Melby said. "We elected individuals that we hoped would think for themselves and not just follow the leader."
"If that was meant as a healing type of statement," Alderman Jack Powell told Melby at the conclusion of her remarks, "I object that the mayor is the only person who has a vote here. I just object to the mayor being singled out � I don't consider that to be a very healing statement."