HARG expects ruling today

County clerk nearly finished with review of petition to block voluntary annexation.
Friday, February 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:16 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Update: Petitioners block voluntary annexation

The public will likely learn today the results of Harg residents’ petition to block the voluntary annexation of 1,000 acres east of town owned by developer Billy Sapp.

Harg-Area Residents for Responsible Growth, or HARG, submitted the 260-page petition with 2,739 signatures on Jan. 28. Since then, County Clerk Wendy Noren and her staff have been reviewing the signatures.

Whether the Columbia City Council holds a scheduled public hearing and votes on the Sapp proposal Monday depends not only on the validity of the petition, but also on legal advice from City Attorney Fred Boeckmann.

Boeckmann said late last month that a valid petition would probably force the council to drop the matter entirely. He could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

“I’m guessing we won’t be voting on it, and his advice will be the petition is valid,” Mayor Darwin Hindman said Thursday. “But I don’t know.”

Members of HARG remain confident their petition contains the required 1,500 signatures from “qualified” city voters.

“We did our own check of the signatures on the county clerk’s Web site,” HARG spokeswoman Renee Richmond said. “Out of the 204 pages I went through, we had over 1,500 registered voters.”

Richmond said conducting the check prepared HARG to challenge anyone who says the petition falls short of requirements to stop the voluntary annexation. But legal questions could arise surrounding the definition of a qualified voter.

“It could mean registered or everyone over 18 within the city limits,” Hindman said. “If the question is raised, the only way to settle is by a court ruling. Only a court can define it.”

Sapp spokesman Don Stamper said he would want to check certain areas of the petition if it is certified.

“There’s actually a lot of confusion about what is a qualified versus a registered voter,’’ Stamper said. “Some of that may come into play in their petition.”

Stamper said he has contingency plans but would not disclose them.

“We have some reserve strategies,” he said. “We are not done. They may delay the project and require us to do it another way, but they won’t stop it. “

While petitions submitted to the county clerk often contain illegible signatures, Noren said the HARG petition was easy to read.

“They had a fairly well-designed thing, and they didn’t cram lines on a page,” she said.

Noren added that the petition contained a high number of names registered at the correct address but that some were from out-of-town voters.

“Certainly some were not from Columbia,” she said. “Many people think they live in the city of Columbia because their mailing address says Columbia, but thousands of people live in the perimeter outside city limits.”

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