About 20% of registered voters turned out Tuesday in West Plains to soundly defeat a citizen initiative to spare the 112-year-old house in Butler Children’s Park from demolition.
Some city officials were outspoken against the initiative due to concerns with funding.
“The city would like to thank everybody who came out to vote today. Obviously this has been a contentious issue,” said City Clerk Mallory Snodgras, reacting to the election results. “Although this issue is still technically in the hands of the courts, we feel this election result removes a big hurdle for the city.”
She continued: “As we have stated all along, our goal is to make the Butler Children’s Park not only one of the best children’s parks in the region, but in the state.”
On Tuesday, after months of waiting, West Plains citizens voted on the Parkside House question, which was the only issue on the ballot. Voters outside of West Plains city limits were not eligible to cast ballots in the municipal election.
Some, like retired high school teacher Sandra Riley of Dora, who has been following the issue for some time, made their stances known in other ways. Riley, for example, stood in front of the Parkside House with a sign reading, “Vote yes.”
“I believe having a year-round facility would have better benefits than a splash pad,” she said. “I liked the plan for the house and I would love to do food labs with children.”
The plan she referred to was the 2018 proposal from the Friends of Parkside to turn the house into a children’s discovery center.
The West Plains City Council voted down that proposal in August 2018, instead approving a proposal submitted by city employees to build a splash pad and a playground inclusive of all children, with and without disabilities..
The final votes were tallied just before 8 p.m. Tuesday; with 1,489 ballots cast, a 19.37% turnout of registered voters, 1,149 people voted against the initiative and 340 voted for it.
The ballot read: “Shall the City of West Plains (the “city”) adopt the proposed Initiative Ordinance No. I-2019-01, as an ordinance of the city?” With yes or no options to choose from, voters were able to request the full text of the proposed ordinance along with legal and financial advisory opinions from the city financial director and attorney.
The ballot language was a point of a contention; many calls were reportedly received by the city and Howell County clerks’ offices from citizens trying to understand what they were asked to vote on.
On Oct. 23, 37th Circuit Associate Judge Sandra West ordered the election to continue, denying a request by the citizen committee to have the election postponed so that ballot language could be improved upon.
The city council approved the ballot language for the ordinance during its regular August 2019 meeting, despite protests from attorney Chrys Fisher, who represents the committee.
A lawsuit filed by the city against members of the committee to challenge the constitutionality of the proposal is currently on the Nov. 12 docket for case review by Judge West.
A temporary restraining order preventing the demolition or removal of the house remains in place as of Tuesday.
Representatives of the initiative petition committee were unable to be reached Tuesday evening for comment.