At this week’s Bushnell City Council meeting, Alex Patton with Ozean Media and Citizens for Cooperative Power (CFCP) addressed the council during the citizens’ forum. Patton advised that Bushnell citizens had recently organized to advocate for a change to the City’s charter.
CFCP initiated the petition process in October, and quickly gathered the required number of petitions to initiate a charter amendment. Nearly 200 petitions signed by registered Bushnell voters were submitted to the Sumter County Supervisor of Elections for verification. On Nov. 2, the Supervisor of Elections informed Patton that the petition had been certified and the initiative would appear on the ballot in an upcoming election.
The petition reads: Shall the Charter for the City of Bushnell be amended to require the city to sell the city’s electric distribution system to SECO Energy on or before December 31, 2017 in order to provide electric service to all city customers, except as extended by court order?
The petition explains that approval amends the charter by adding a provision requiring the City to dispose of the City’s electric distribution system by selling it to Sumter Electric Cooperative, Inc. (SECO Energy). Patton said the initiative gives Bushnell citizens a voice in who will provide their electric service.
Patton had discussed the petition for referendum timing with the Supervisor of Elections, who indicated that adding it to the Presidential Primary scheduled for March 2016 would be an easy process. Patton emphasized the City must take action quickly so that dispute would not drag out for another year. He also stated the political committee was offering to offset any additional costs incurred by the City per their intra-local agreement with the Supervisor of Elections to administer the election.
Rather than consider this request, Mayor Spaude moved that the referendum appear on the ballot in November 2016 with the Presidential Election. Councilor Dale Swain attempted to amend the motion to change the election date to the March 2016 Presidential Primary ballot. The amendment did not receive a second. Discussion ensued between the Mayor and Councilors Durham, Davis and McCoy, but because they were not speaking into the microphones, several citizens were vocal about not hearing the conversations subsequent to the motions.
After Bushnell citizen Dale Barnes voiced his concern about the poor communication of the council and inability to hear the public business, the City Attorney clarified that the Mayor’s motion had received a second and an affirmative vote that the initiative would appear on the November 2016 ballot.
Vice Mayor Bill Durham, a SECO Energy employee with an apparent conflict of interest, did not recuse himself from the vote. Councilor McCoy complained that the citizens had not “come to the City first” before petitioning to the Supervisor of Elections. McCoy seemed oblivious to the fact that citizens have been attending City Council meetings in droves since February asking the City to abandon their costly quest to acquire SECO’s territory. Councilor Davis asked if this was “City of SECO” or “City of Bushnell” as she shook her head in disdain. Neither Councilor acknowledged that it is the statutory right of the citizens to petition. Past council meeting notes indicate that citizens repeatedly asked if the City could sell its electric service to SECO and were advised that it was not possible. That, per Section 7.05 of the charter, is not the case. The citizens’ petition for referendum validates that fact.
SECO Energy supports the citizens’ desire to have a voice in determining their electric service provider. The company stands ready to support the will of the people and will respect the election results. Read SECO Energy’s assessment of the City’s electric feasibility study and review the corresponding presentation.