HOPE, ARK.—Residents voted—by only a margin of 19 votes—Tuesday to keep the city's board and manager form of government.
The election was to determine whether to change to an elected mayor and council structure. The special election was called based on a petition with 78 valid signatures.
There were 358 votes cast for making a change and 377 votes cast to keep the current form of government, according to information from the Hempstead County Clerk's Office. Results were complete but unofficial with all seven boxes counted including early and absentee votes, according to the clerk's office.
The ballot entry stated:
"FOR the proposition to organize the City of Hope, Arkansas under the Mayor-Council form of government.
"AGAINST the proposition to organize the City of Hope, Arkansas under the Mayor-Council form of government."
Hope attorney Blake Montgomery has been one of the people seeking the change. He said in a previous Gazette interview that the city has been struggling for a number of years because the wealthy have become wealthier and the poor have become poorer.
U.S. Census Bureau reports show Hope's population has declined from 10,597 in the 2000 census to an estimated 9,790 in July 2017.
Hope's government has operated under the city manager form since 1958, said Hope Mayor Steve Montgomery, who is not related to Blake Montgomery.
The mayorsaid he believes Hope needs a professionally trained city manager.
Steve Montgomery said Hope manages a public municipal utility with Hope Power & Light and a landfill, and the town also has 12 departments directed by the city manager. He said the utility company increased the rates and angered citizens, contributing to the petition.
If the citizens had voted to change to a mayor-council government, another election would have been held to choose a mayor, city council members, a city attorney and a city clerk, it states.
Currently, the mayor is appointed by the city Board of Directors and not voted on by the public. The mayor and board members receive no pay.
Mayor Steve Montgomery said, "I appreciate the citizens that voted for this important election. To those that voted to keep our current form of government, I can speak for the city manager and every city employee, as well as the city government, that we will continue to work for you.
"For those that voted to change the city government, we will work even harder in order for our community to be more successful. We need all citizens to work together and be an active part of our community.
"Though the vote was close, I truly believe that citizens on both sides of the issue want to prosper and succeed."