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Annex opponents issue last-minute plea

By Staff | Nov 20, 2009

West High Street resident an annexation opponent Sonya Evanisko, pictured, and Hilary Lo distributed flyers on Saturday, Nov. 14 urging townspeople to oppose the annexation of Shepherd University dormitories. Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

A loose coalition of Shepherdstown residents opposed to the annexation of Shepherd University’s West Campus dormitories spent the days leading up to Tuesday’s Town Council meeting marshaling support for their cause with fliers and emails to fellow residents alerting them of the upcoming vote. Prominent and active members of this movement were Shepherdstown residents Sonya Evanisko, also employed as a Shepherd University art professor, Josh Stella, member of the Shepherdstown Planning Commission, and Hilary Lo.

The result of their pavement pounding and keyboard mashing activism was a surge of interest in the annexation among town residents, over 40 of whom packed the first floor meeting room of the Shepherdstown Men’s Club on German and King Streets on Tuesday night.

Much of the initial communication was relayed over the Shepherdstown Residents Association e-mail network, a mailing list of 60 Shepherdstownians, including Mayor Auxer and several Council members. Prominent opponents of the annexation dispatched emails across this local digital mailing list, criticizing the annexation as a money grab and raising concerns about the impact of dormitory residents on municipal politics.

Late Friday afternoon, the e-mails started to spill outside the boundaries of the SRA e-mail network, with Planning Commissioner Josh Stella dispatching a 1,000 word e-mail critical of the annexation to the Town Council, the Mayor and The Shepherdstown Chronicle around 4:45 p.m. on Friday evening.

His email was largely concerned with the municipal consequences of a majority student electorate, fearing that students could increase the occupancy rates or change parking regulations in a manner contrary to the interests of long-term residents. He also thanked Sonya Evanisko for her work to publicize the issue.

Stella, had, earlier in the week, voiced his opposition to the annexation proposal in a special session of the Planning Commission and regular meeting of the Town Council.

The SRA describes itself as an “e-mail group” devoted to maintaining an open line of communication between residents for the purpose of preserving community interaction, neighborhood networks and education on issues which affect Shepherdstown. The group has no official leadership structure, however Evanisko maintains the master list of email addresses of members. According to Evanisko, anyone can join so long as one has an email address and is a potential voting resident of Shepherdstown.

Evanisko, along with Hilary Lo, were also busy on Saturday afternoon, canvassing Shepherdstown on foot, distributing literature to people’s homes alerting residents of the final vote on the matter and asking if Shepherdstown was willing to trade additional video lottery funds for an increased student body politic in municipal affairs.

Absent from almost all materials distributed by opponents of the annexation were the date and time of the biannual municipal election, which occur almost a month after the vast majority of West Campus residents leave for summer vacation.

Proponents of the annexation argue student involvement in municipal affairs would be minimal, citing that the timing of the election, coupled with traditionally low young voter turnout in municipal elections. In an interview on Tuesday, Josh Stella noted that absentee ballots are a mechanism by which dormitory residents may vote regardless of their location on the day of the election.

In an interview on Saturday, Evanisko went further, speculating that future digital voting systems could one day allow students to cast ballots across great distances. In previous public hearings on the matter, Shepherdstown resident Zenia Kuzma has said that the 2008 election has proven that today’s young voters are more active than their predecessors.

“That’s the way our society is moving, isn’t it?” Said Evanisko, rhetorically.

Evanisko also had the last word in the question and answer session of the meeting. She took the time to note the similarities between the digital organization of the annexation opposition movement, and the digital social networking undertaken by young adults on a daily basis, warning that students could use similar means to influence the Town Council.

Following her comment, the Shepherdstown Town Council voted four-to-two to approve the annexation.