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Buckeye recall effort fails to meet goal
Submitted by Glenn Gullickson on Thu, 03/16/2017 - 4:00pm
Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck won’t have to stand for election again this year after an effort started by residents angry over disputed water bills failed to gain enough signatures to recall the longtime public official.
A week before the March 23 deadline to file 1,718 signatures required to trigger the recall election, Jeff Hancock, organizer of Buckeye Residents Against High Water Bills, acknowledged that his group had fallen short of its goal.
Hancock said the group would have collected about 1,200 signatures if all petitions were returned as promised.
“It’s not a lost cause,” Hancock said of the controversy that brought attention to water bills for hundreds of dollars for thousands of gallons of water that residents said they didn’t use.
They were angered by the city’s claim that water leaks, theft or billing contractor errors were responsible for the high bills in a fraction of the city’s 20,000 water accounts.
Hancock noted that after complaints hit the news, the city established a hotline for residents to file complaints about water bills and ousted Dave Nigh, who was the face of the water department as the city’s water director.
But Hancock admitted that residents’ passion for the campaign cooled since the group’s first meeting in October when about 100 people gathered to organize the protest.
By the end of November, the group’s leaders had filed for recall petitions and threatened to target other members of the City Council if they had success gathering signatures against Meck.
“Everyone was gung-ho in the beginning,” Hancock said.
But Hancock said the timing for the effort was bad, as momentum stalled over the holidays.
“We picked the wrong time to do it,” he said.
The group’s meetings in January and February attracted about half the turnout of the original meeting as Hancock appealed for help.
He said he faced the reality of the situation over the past couple of weeks, realizing that people who offered help moved on as the city responded to complaints and adjusted accounts.
“I’ve got tons of hours invested in this,” Hancock said. “I tried to do what’s right. It’s hard when everyone doesn’t pitch in.”
Hancock said the effort may have hit a wall with people he said were “scared” to sign the recall petition by saying “We have to live here, so we can not sign.”
“I don’t know what that’s about,” he said.
Hancock had targeted Meck since he is the city’s top official. But the mayor is practically an institution in Buckeye, elected in August to this third consecutive term, which keeps him at the helm through 2020 in the city of about 60,000 residents.
A Buckeye native, Meck previously served as mayor from 1973 to 1975 and as a member of the council from 1968 to 1975 and 2002 to 2006.
As the water billing complaints grew, the city acknowledged there were problems, but officials also said the recall campaign was a distraction that hurt the city’s image.
According to a report dated March 8, 350 cases reported to the water billing hotline had been closed, with adjustments made on 93 accounts.
The report said 83 complaints remain to be resolved.
Hancock acknowledged that bills have returned to normal, but he said his group would continue its Facebook page and “keep tabs on everything.”
“It seems like the city is trying to do what’s best for everyone right now,” Hancock said. “I hope that doesn’t fade away,”
Hancock said he’s among several Buckeye residents who have filed complaints with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
“We can make changes in other ways,” he said.
Meck did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Glenn Gullickson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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