SU students react to annex petition
State annexation law could allow Shepherdstown to increase its population on the 2010 census by over 600 with a petition bearing only 10 signatures.
The annexation petition still has to be approved by the Shepherdstown Planning Commission on Nov. 9. If it clears the Planning Commission, the Town Council must hold two readings of the annexation measure, the first during the regular monthly Town Council meeting on Nov. 10, the second during a special session of the Town Council on Nov. 17.
Should the annexation of Shepherd University’s West Campus dormitories be approved, the Corporation of Shepherdstown stands to gain 633 residents on the next census, worth, potentially, hundreds of thousands of dollars in video lottery revenue for the municipal government.
Under state law, Shepherdstown can annex the West Campus dorms if a simple majority of the potential voters living in the West Campus dorms endorse a petition to be annexed into the corporate limits of town.
The petition to annex the West Campus dorms makes no mention of 633 potential new residents. Instead, it only found a population of 33 residents, 17 of whom were identified as potential voters eligible to sign the annexation petition. Of those 17, a simple majority of 10 signed the petition
Why the discrepancy in numbers? Because, according to Shepherd legal counsel Alan Perdue, Shepherd University’s Board of Governors had conducted its population survey of the West Campus dorms by September 14, only one month after Shepherd’s dormitory students had moved in for the normal academic year. As a result, the vast majority of students living in the dorms did not meet the 60 day residency requirement to be canvased for the petition. The state annexation procedure, which seeks to establish the number qualified voters, has no bearing on the federal census count, which seeks to establish a total population count.
State annexation law requires that the governing body of a territory to be annexed submit a petition with a simple majority of potential voters and affected businesses signing in favor of annexation. The governing body of the West Campus dormitories is Shepherd’s Board of Governors, and the petition for annexation was prepared by the board. There are no private businesses in the area proposed for annexation.
According to annexation law as written, there is no special category of annexation law for part-time, non-permanent residence halls such as university dorms. Lacking such a distinction, there is no special requirement placed on university governments to restrict potential voter count surveys to specific times of the year to accurately reflect the student populations during the normal academic semesters.
Over 20 West Campus residents were approached to comment for this story. All were unaware Shepherd University had petitioned the Corporation of Shepherdstown to annex their residences. For this reason, many declined to comment. Of those who did comment, many were dismayed to learn the particulars of the timing and circulation of the annexation petition. Some students went as far as to question the legitimacy of the petition.
Nate Bruso, a sophmore psychology major and West Campus resident chaffed at the timing of the petition. “They took the easy way out, waiting for only a few people to be eligible for the petition.”
The sharpest criticism of the petition came from the president of Shepherd’s Student Government Association, Monet Johnson, a senior political science major. In addition to her student government office and studies, she also works as a resident assistant and hall security agent. Johnson says that she’s not against annexation, but she wished that the administration had reached out to the normal student population for their opinion. Despite her duties in hall security and as SGA president, she only learned of the West Campus annexation proposal last week when the Picket, Shepherd’s student newspaper, approached her for comment on the issue.
“I hadn’t heard about any petition. I was an R.A., Residence Life told me nothing about this, that there would be people in West Campus getting signatures for a petition.” Reports Johnson. “As SGA president, no one from the administration has contacted me about the annexation, I’ve heard nothing.”
Johnson also echoed concerns that the 10 signatures are not a legitimate sample of the normal West Campus population.
“That’s not a good sample of the campus. I wonder who these people are.” Says Johnson.
Shepherd University legal counsel Alan Perdue says that the annexation petition is fully compliant with the letter of West Virginia’s annexation law, which makes no procedural distinction between the annexation of year-round residences with static population numbers and dormitories with dramatic seasonal population changes.
“If you ask a person, simply, procedurally, if we did the right thing, then I think you’ll find we did.” Says Purdue. “It’s fully compliant for proceeding with an annexation.”
State law provides municipalities with three methods to annex territory: by election, by petition, or by minor boundary adjustment. Shepherd University is attempting an annexation by petition. Purdue admits that, until July, 2009, Shepherd officials were unaware of any requirement to canvas or poll the residents of the West Campus dorms. Annexation by election was never seriously considered by Shepherd, Purdue says.
“It’s most likely the overwhelming position of the group affected is indifference.” Says Purdue. “There was a serious concern that as the potential voter count grew, student indifference would be a major challenge to getting this annexation through.”
To combat perceived student indifference and difficulties associated with polling large numbers of people, Shepherd deliberately chose to initiate the petition before more students could become eligible to participate in the poll. Purdue says the primary concern of the University is to finish the annexation before the start of the 2010 census process in April.
“I have no bashfulness about being clear about that.” Says Purdue. “That’s the foremost purpose of moving forward with this annexation.”
SGA president Monet Johnson disagrees with Purdue’s assessment of West Campus students as indifferent.
“Shepherd University students can surprise you.” Says Johnson. “You can’t really say whether or not something will get our students involved until you ask us.”
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During the Oct. 13 Shepherdstown Town Council meeting, local resident and Shepherd University art professor Sonya Evanisko asked the Town Council to consider the municipal priorities a resident student might harbor.
When she remarked that parking is the number one concern for Shepherd students, she was referring to the Stakeholders Survey, a 2007 survey of students, university faculty, and community leaders commissioned by then new Shepherd president Suzanne Shipley which found that a lack of East Campus parking was identified by students (as well as community leaders and the faculty) as the biggest weakness of the university.
All students contacted for comment on this article agreed that parking was a major issue for the campus. Many highlighted a need for a parking garage somewhere on campus. However, many West Campus residents pointed out that the majority of their neighbors walk, bike, or use the Pan-Tran to get to class, rather than risk losing a parking spot close to their dorm. The students most affected by the lack of parking are commuters who would be unaffected by annexation.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” says Shannon Selwyn, a sophomore West Campus resident. “It’s, max, a 15-minute walk from here to White Hall. If you live on West Campus, you know it’ll save you time to just walk instead of trying to hunt for a spot.”