SNOW HILL -- Snow Hill's newest council members have been sworn in following victories in the heated May 5 election.
In their first meeting since taking office, Rebecca Bowman and Gerald Shockley helped approve the town's $2.1 million fiscal 2009-10 budget and listened to concerns about local absentee ballot procedures.
The budget includes $46,500 in cuts made Tuesday morning by the county and state to Snow Hill's police department, in lieu of taxes and highway user fee funds. Overall, the town's funding will be more than $1 million less than this year.
"We didn't get revenue and we had to pay more money for things," said Mayor Stephen Mathews. "But we have actually balanced the budget."
Bowman -- who is now the council treasurer -- and Shockley's council victories are the center of a debate in the town about the use of absentee ballots and the legitimacy of the election.
The Snow Hill Town Charter holds that "any qualified voter registered to vote in the town of Snow Hill is entitled to vote in any municipal election by absentee ballot." Bowman and Shockley presented ballots to voters while campaigning as a way for people to vote in their own home. While they were well within the law, some in Snow Hill were concerned about the legitimacy of the ballots, which were often turned in by the candidates themselves.
On the day of the election, resident David Suznavick filed a complaint alleging Bowman and Shockley had tampered with the ballots and may have intimidated voters. The mayor has recused the council from dealing with the issue, and Suznavick said he will take his complaint to Worcester County Circuit Court.
At this week's meeting, armed with about 40 signatures from town residents, he formally challenged the election results, which was won with the help of 161 absentee ballots for Bowman and Shockley. Only 20 ballots were cast for other candidates.
"We ask town elected officials, as well as Snow Hill Board of Elections officials to delay the certification of votes and swearing in of newly elected Town Council members until after a public meeting is convened, so elected and elections officials can resolve these issues under public scrutiny," wrote Suznavick in the letter addressed to town and election officials.
Since the vote tallies were certified by the town's Board of Elections, Bowman and Shockley took their seats despite the complaint.
Edward Lee, a politically active Snow Hill resident and a strong supporter of Bowman's and Shockley's campaigns, suggested the town look at bringing its absentee ballot regulations in line with the state, consider redistricting, and reconsider the composition and procedures of the Board of Elections.
Mathews said the voting rules would be looked at and changes made to the code.
"My recommendation is that we look at this at a later time and appoint a committee of residents to address the issues and make recommendations back to us," Mathews said.
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