ROCK HALL — Gren Whitman, a regular attendee at town meetings and an outspoken critic of Bob Willis, said he picked up some of the first petitions Monday, Dec. 2, to recall Rock Hall’s mayor.
The town council approved a charter amendment Oct. 10 allowing for recall elections. Whitman was among the citizens who lobbied for the amendment that took effect Nov. 29.
The petitioners need 244 signatures to initiate a recall. Once the names are certified by the town, a public hearing will be scheduled for Willis and the petitioners to state their respective cases.
Regardless of the hearing’s outcome, a special election will be held. Voters will answer the question of whether or not Willis, who has two years left on his first term, remains in office.
Whitman is one of a handful of residents collecting signatures for Willis’ recall. Chrissy Price is spearheading the drive.
“(Willis) needs to realize this petition could validate him, just as well as remove him. If the citizens want to keep him, this will prove that they want to keep him,” Price said.
Price does not live in Rock Hall, so she is not eligible to vote in town elections, nor would her signature be considered valid on the petition. She is a Rock Hall native, and her father, Butch Price, is a town councilman.
She would not identify other petitioners.
“They’re just afraid of consequences from him, you know, being mayor,” Chrissy Price said.
In an interview Monday, Dec. 18, Willis said he called one of the petitioners. He said he wanted to know the reason for his recall.
Willis also said he heard some people are misrepresenting the petitions as voter registration forms.
At the Nov. 14 town meeting, Willis suggested a special election be held for himself and all four council members.
“We should have an election. Put us all up there,” he said. “Let the town decide on what they want to do with the future.”
On Monday, Willis called the petition drive unfortunate and a “lose-lose” for the town.
He said he made the comment at the November meeting to show that the charter does not require reasons be given for removing someone from office, which he wants changed.
Questions were raised at a previous town meeting about whether or not the blank petition form given out by the town required council approval. The council did not approve it because some members wanted clearer instructions added by the town’s attorney, Charles “Chip” MacLeod.
At the Dec. 12 meeting, MacLeod said the council members did not need to approve the form. He said they were given a copy so they could see what would be issued starting Nov. 29.
“That form had to be made available on the effective date of the charter amendment,” Town Clerk Stephanie Loller said at the meeting.
Chrissy Price said Willis has spent the past nine months attacking the town staff. She called some of his actions unethical.
“You can’t have a mayor attacking the employees of the town just to prove a point,” she said. “There are a lot of residents out there that are unhappy with the way he’s handling things.”
Willis said he and the staff differ over town operations. He said the staff is keeping him and the council in the dark on certain issues to drive a wedge between them.
“My question is: What are people afraid of? What is it that people are hiding from?” Willis said. “Again, I think this whole recall notion is because I’m asking questions that people don’t want the answers known.”
Chrissy Price also said she is upset Willis reported her father for acting as a plumber without a license. Butch Price previously said he forgot to renew his license with the state, but remedied the situation.
“That’s attacking my father’s livelihood and his personal life. You know, that’s attacking the entire family,” Chrissy Price said.
Willis said his power has been limited. He said he and his family are being subjected to political attacks in the press and in public.
He said those efforts have failed to force him out, so people are attempting the recall.
“It’s a very serious matter, but I think it’s a very poor way of doing business. It’s politics, and it really is not a productive thing for the community,” he said.
Chrissy Price said the petition drive is nothing personal against Willis. She said she and Willis grew up together in Rock Hall, and, as mayor, he has done a lot of good for the town.
“If someone wants to sign it, that’s their prerogative. That’s their choice,” she said. “Anybody can go get a petition and state their own reasons why they no longer want any of the council members or the mayor in service.”