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COST pays the price: Works through Christmas, blizzard to get needed 1,500 signatures

There were several major stories for 2012. But perhaps the largest story of the year came in the midst of the worst winter weather Central Arkansas has experience since the ice storms of 2000.

While the area was experiencing nine inches of snow, high winds, and the first blizzard since the 1960s, about a dozen Sherwood residents were braving the weather – even on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve – to accomplish their goal. They were left with a bad taste in their mouth about the Nov. 26 decision of Sherwood City Council that passed by a 5-3 vote to sign a 20-year franchise agreement for North Little Rock Electric to provide about 7,000 city households with electric power.

According to state law, citizens who don’t like how their councils vote have 30 days to get enough petitions of registered voters and place the issue on a citywide referendum.

City resident Don Berry, chair of Citizens of Sherwood Together (COST), said about a dozen people helped in the effort.

Another very involved volunteer was Charlie Woods, who was formerly Sherwood’s board member of the Pulaski County Special School District. Wood for months has protested the majority support for North Little Rock Electric. Woods publicly has supported utilizing Entergy of Arkansas to provide the service, saying the larger utility’s prices would save Sherwood customers a lot of money. Woods is also an employee of Entergy.

However, COST’s leader, Berry, has no personal interest in the issue. He is a Sherwood resident, but lives in the Gap Creek area whose home is served by First Electric Coop. He also receives no income from Entergy or North Little Rock Electric.

Berry said he got involved in the issue because he felt Sherwood’s leadership proceeded with the process of picking North Little Rock Electric for all the wrong reasons.

“They had their minds made up from the beginning,” Berry said.

Berry called the bias-nature of the decision-making process led to a flawed path in picking North Little Rock Electric over Entergy of Arkansas or First Electric Cooperative.

Berry, not elected to any city office, said the methods used to pick North Little Rock Electric demonstrate a flow in how the Sherwood government works and frustrated citizens should pick this time to change the way the city is managed.

Wood said COST collected about 50 more signatures than were needed for the referendum vote.

“We had a lawyer draw it up,” said Woods, speaking about the petition and proposed ordinance. “There is a state law that states when a city council enacts a measure the public doesn’t like people have 30 days to get it repealed and placed on the ballot.”

Wood said there were about six volunteers who worked hard during the 30-day period to get the necessary number of signatures with an additional six people who also helped.

“This was the result of a dozen people’s work,” Wood said. “We went through a lawyer to make sure the petition was worded correctly. We wanted to make sure this was done right.”

The petition drive did not start the first day following council’s Nov. 26 vote to pick North Little Rock Electric, according to Wood.

“It was 10 days before people started walking the streets,” Wood said.

Within a few days before the petition deadline, which was Dec. 26, COST had about 900 or 1,000 signatures. COST turned in the petitions one day later because City Hall was closed due to the blizzard.

Wood said COST volunteers knew they were short the necessary number of signatures as Christmas Eve was at hand so they decided to not let up regardless of the holiday.

“We all did so much work. We were not going to let this all go to waste,” Wood said. “I went out walking the streets on Christmas Eve. Some went out on Christmas Day. They had their family time and when their family thing was over they went out walking again.

Wood said COST has its work cut out trying to get Sherwood voters to support the cause.

“You know how hard it is to get people out for a special election,” Wood said. “I am hoping when they have a vested financial interest, advise how much they are going to lose with North Little Rock over 20 years. It is going to be over the thousands of dollars.”

Wood said if some of the signatures are determined to be invalid state law allows COST 10 days to get more valid signatures to obtain the minimum number of valid petitions.

“We were pretty careful to ask people if they were registered voters in the city of Sherwood,” Wood said.

Wood and Berry said they were surprised at the number of Sherwood residents who are frustrated about how they city government is currently being managed.

“You would be surprised when you talk to people door to door about how many people are angry about city government,” Wood said. “There is a lot of anger out there.”

Berry said there were people within and without North Little Rock Electric’s service area in Sherwood who were not happy with the council’s vote to pick North Little Rock Electric.

Berry said there were a lot of people within the service area who wanted to save money with another provider while citizens outside of the service area who were upset about how the process was undertaken by North Little Rock Electric’s Sherwood supporters.

“Ninety percent of the people are still upset about the golf course (The Greens at North Hills),” Wood said.

Wood said many people are upset that the city council’s desire to get North Little Rock Electric’s annual tariff of $475,000 was more important than letting Sherwood residents within North Little Rock Electric’s service area save about 15 percent on their utility bills.

“There is no denying that,” Wood said. “This is a hidden tax.

Wood and Berry said COST volunteers were very excited when they were able to collect the necessary number of signatures.

“It was worth working through Christmas and even all the weather,” Wood said.

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