SEBRING - A sharply divided Sebring City Council refused, by a 3-2 vote, Tuesday to let residents decide whether elections should move from March to November to coincide with national and state elections.
Councilman John Griffin, who was absent from the previous meeting when a tie vote occurred, joined Councilmen Bud Whitlock and Scott Stanley in opposing the proposed binding referendum.
Councilmen Andrew Fells and John Clark favored the referendum.
Griffin said he has had no public input from residents seeking the change.
"I haven't heard people complain," he said. "I don't understand why we have to change everything."
Fells and Clark contended the change was needed in light of the 5 percent turnout of voters in March during the city election in which Stanley and Griffin were re-elected.
Previously, the council had favored putting a non-binding referendum on the ballot, but Stanley opposed a binding referendum.
Fells said he decided the best course was a binding referendum since the city would be forced to hold one if the City Council favored the change after a non-binding referendum.
When Fells was first elected, he said, the turnout was low. "This last election we had an even lower turnout," he said.
If a non-binding referendum were held and people favored a change, he said, "I would hope the council would accept the vote of the people."
Fells questioned why the council would not trust the voters to make a decision.
Agreeing, Clark said, he failed to see a downside to letting the voters decide.
But Griffin said he doesn't believe that just because more voters show up at the polls, that "doesn't mean they are going to vote any different. I don't seen any sense in changing the date."
Griffin said people show up at the polls when there is a controversial issue, such as the first time he ran. Then, three incumbents were voted out, he said.
He also blamed the lack of local media coverage, besides the lack of controversial issues, for the bad turnout in March.
Although Fells wanted the issue to be placed on the Oct. 1 agenda, the majority of the Council refused to support that.
In downtown Sebring Wednesday, a couple of residents said they would support the change,
Rosalind Vicenty, who said she lives in the city, said she doesn't believe she was aware of the March elections.
"I think it would be better in November," she said.
George Jackson, who also said he lives in the city, agreed the election should be moved.