INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — For the first time since the Independence City Council passed a plan to install smart meters, residents on Monday got a chance to address their elected officials.
Many, including council members themselves, were upset the vote even happened earlier this month. The proposal wasn't on the agenda for the meeting, and it had already been shot down just two weeks before.
"Harry Truman would be embarrassed by this mean and nasty act," one citizen told the council Monday night.
Some residents held up flip flops, alluding to the council's reversal on smart meters, while others held signs criticizing the "secret" vote and calling for Mayor Eileen Weir to be fired.
At one point the debate became so heated that Weir stopped the meeting and walked over to the police chief.
"If we continue to have outbursts and arguments while we have citizens up here speaking, the police chief will escort you out," she said after returning to her seat.
There were more outbursts later, after Councilman Tom Van Camp motioned to place meters on the August ballot. Some citizens are currently working to gather signatures on a petition that would do just that. Van Camp's motion to delay the meter project pending the outcome of the petition passed last week.
"We should always be viewed as doing what is right for the people, not for the City Council. Let the people vote," Van Camp said, as the crowd erupted in applause.
According to the city clerk, the cost of placing meters on the ballot would be between $150,000 and $200,000.
Councilwoman Karen DeLuccie abstained from voting on Van Camp's motion, citing concerns about voting on an ordinance that had not been placed on the agenda. It was the same concern raised about the meter vote, and DeLuccie plans to introduce a rule change to prevent such actions.
Despite voting yes on smart meters, Councilman Scott Roberson said he was not comfortable voting on Van Camp's motion on Monday night because of the procedural issues raised.
That reversal did not go over well with Lucy Young, a petitioner and former councilwoman.
"You're an unethical councilman," she shouted, gathering her belongings and leaving before police could escort her outside.
Van Camp's motion failed, but citizens have until May 6 to gather 3,800 signatures.
Petitioners believe utility bills will go up to pay for the smart meters, and they also pointed to fire and cybersecurity risks.
"It's amazing how many people just come up to you and they're already upset. They're upset with the way it happened, with what's happening," said Grace Kormendi, one of the residents gathering signatures.
Weir said the vote was legal and that the process has been used in the past. She applauded the citizens who came to voice their concerns but disagreed that the meter approval was a surprise.
"I do take some issue with people saying they didn't know about it, they didn't have an opportunity to be heard about it," she said. "We've talked about this really for many years and in great detail for the past two years."
41 Action News also asked about residents' fears about utility bills rising.
"Some people's bills may go up, and some people's bills may go down, but there will not be a rate increase because of it," Weir said.
According to Weir, any changes in bills can be attributed to smart meters taking more accurate readings of usage.