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Council Overrides Mayor's Veto, Resident Wants 5 Members Recalled

The 5-1 vote establishes a special district to help the city meet some of its long-term fire service needs, but Mayor Gene Hobgood is worried about the potential for legal challenges.

After passionate pleas from seniors, heated exchanges from the council dais, and repeated jeers and interruptions from the crowd, the voted Thursday night to override the of a that critics fear will erase a decade of voter-approved senior tax exemptions.

Immediately after the 5-1 vote, which establishes a special district to help the city meet some of its long-term fire service needs and shifts some of that burden to Canton's elderly, frustrated residents cleared the room and senior John Rust started to organize a recall of the five council members who "ignored the expressed wishes of every person that was in the meeting."

Earlier in the night, speaker after speaker asked council members to table Thursday's vote, develop a multiyear fire service plan, gather feedback from the public, and put the issue in the hands of the voters in the form of a referendum.

"Put your differences (and) your personality problems away," resident John Fodor told the council. "Sit down. Figure out what the plan is, what's going on, and try to come out collectively with a decision that's amenable to everybody."

Soleil homeowner Steve Bloom echoed that sentiment.

"You cannot make a decision to put an ordinance in effect that doesn't ... say what it's going to mean and what it's going to do," he said. "Please table the motion."

For a moment, it seemed like the council was headed in that direction.

"I think we're on the verge of coming up with a solution that will keep your exemptions," Council member Hooky Huffman told the crowd, "but it will ask every citizen to participate in building up our fire service."

Mayor Gene Hobgood spelled out the proposal, which included a November bond referendum to build two new fire stations.

"Bonds would be paid off over 15 to 20 years," he said. "I don't want to create more debt for our taxpayers without a referendum. Homestead exemptions do not apply to bond debt so every property owner would participate in supporting the building costs for new stations."

But seniors wouldn't be responsible for operational costs. The exemption, which applies to seniors who are at least 62 years old, would remain in tact, Hobgood said.

Huffman asked council members if they would consider postponing Thursday's vote until the Aug. 16 meeting "to allow us to gather our thoughts."

The motion failed 5-1.

"I want these constituents to understand something," said Council member John Beresford, who made the motion to override the mayor's veto. "I represent the entire citizenry of Canton, which happens to be some young folks, too, who are struggling, who can't walk off and find a job, who has not had a raise in three to four years. I, along with my colleagues, are thinking of the entire population." 

The same five council members who voted for the fire district ordinance on July 19 were the same five who voted to override the mayor's veto on Thursday. Again, Council member Glen Cummins was the lone dissenter.

"I did speak to the attorney general today—personally," Hobgood said. "And I can tell you he has concerns (about removing the senior homestead exemption by creating a special district)."

Thursday's Vote

  • Council members Hooky Huffman, Bill Bryan, John Beresford, Jack Goodwin and Bob Rush voted to override the mayor's veto of the fire district ordinance. Council member Glen Cummins voted against it.
  • Watch the meeting: To watch the called council meeting in its entirety, go to http://www.livestream.com/cityofcanton?t=911889

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Marilyn Adams August 03, 2012 at 05:36 PM
You can't trust elected officials to represent the wishes of the same people that elected them nor can we trust them to spend our tax dollars for what they were originally intended for.
Justin Ready August 03, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I will say this...if I were a council member I would be ashamed of my behavior. That meeting lacked any sort of decorum. Also, I don't understand why they could not table the vote until an actual plan was in place. The council disregarded everyone in the room. It was obvious to me that they wanted to overturn the "veto" just because Gene used his power. These turf wars and pettiness in ruining our city.
Sharon Jackson August 03, 2012 at 10:22 PM
The ordinance that was passed gives the city council the power to levy and collect taxes at a rate to be determined. It is essentially a blank check. They don't even have a plan! How irresponsible can they be?
Etowahwah August 06, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Great idea Mr. Rust! These five council members are an embarrassment to our city. Not necessarily for the way they voted on the fire district ordinance, although that is reason enough, but rather the way they conduct themselves in general. They act like a bunch of middle school bullies. They are too busy fighting amongst themselves to truly focus on what is best for the constituents that elected them - the same ones they are supposedly representing (but not listening to). I invite everyone to attend the City Council meetings and witness this comedy of errors for yourself.

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