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Neligh Mayor Joe Hartz was one of five elected officials targeted Thursday morning by a recall petition, but his reaction to the effort to remove him from office may have people surprised.
“I’m not upset by the people. I think the system is wonderful,” Hartz said during an interview at the Antelope County News. “We have checks and balances, we’re watching out for each other, we’re making sure we’re not in this for our own gain. From the side of representing the people, we’re trying to do the best job we can at that. We’re trying to do a good job of what we’ve learned from our past to use in our future so we can make decisions that help the people of our community. That’s not only Neligh - that’s Antelope County.”
Hartz, along with city council members Ted Hughes, Dale Wilkinson, Stephanie Wanek and Leonard Miller, have been named in a recall petition filed by Neligh residents Bernadine Hughes and Merlin Mortinson.
Hartz, who was sworn in as mayor just six months ago, said the only part of the recall attempt that is upsetting is that the cost of a special election would be the burden of taxpayers. In order to force a special election, circulars must collect 162 signatures on a petition. There are 986 registered voters in Neligh.
Antelope County Clerk Lisa Payne estimated that a special election for all five individuals would cost about $5,000, which doesn’t include another special election to replace the officials should a recall be successful.
According to the affidavit filed, the reason behind the recall petition is the City of Neligh is attempting to annex two areas into city limits. The city council passed the second of three readings last week for annexation. The third and final reading is set for July 14, which is about a month before the recall signatures would be due to the county clerk.
The petition officially reads that it is filed due to “continued support/vote to approve the annexation ordinances has been done with repeated admissions that he/she has no idea what the future costs and revenues will be to the taxpayers of Neligh. This pattern of political conduct is alarming and sets the stage for future harm to the people of Neligh and to the business sector.”
Despite what would appear to be a division among the community, Hartz said he doesn’t believe a division has taken place. In fact, he sees a community that is growing and trying to work together.
“I’m not sure it’s a divided community,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of support moving forward as we’ve talked about this at meetings. There has been support and very little opposition outside of the business that are involved and have stated anything. Wherever we go from here, we need to keep in mind that we’re here to help and here to do the best we can.”
Hartz said hindsight is always 20-20, which makes moving forward difficult at any governing level. If he has any regrets, Hartz said it would be how he may have phrased a few things because despite not having a vote on annexation, his views have been used against and may have influenced council members.
Blaming council members for his views and words, Hartz said, simply isn’t fair.
“I talked about things that we needed, and that really wasn’t fair to the council because I said something the council is responsible for,” he said. “We all have our personal opinions and views and sometimes despite not being a voting part, we can still influence how people look at something. I sincerely apologize for anybody who was hurt and especially to council members who may have been affected by something I said. I was trying to get a point across on how we can work together and not against each other to make this work.”
Hartz said he believes the city council is trying to do what’s best for the area and is trying to take farmers and landowner views into consideration.
“The farm community is our lifeline. They’re our blood and soul, so we have to look out for their benefit and our benefit,” he said. “I think we have a great county. People pit town against town or area against area, but we’re in this fight together to survive.”