MORRISVILLE — Two political groups have emerged in town, endorsing local candidates and pushing their own agendas.
Over the past five years, Morrisville Action has helped elect seven of eight Morrisville Town Council candidates.
Meanwhile, Citizens for Morrisville is a newer group supporting opposing candidates for Tuesday’s election.
Morrisville Action, a nonpartisan political action group, now has about 2,000 people on its mailing list.
Mayor Jackie Holcombe and Councilman Steve Diehl started the group in 2008 in hopes of preventing Park West Village from being developed at its current location and to fight off a proposed 19percent property-tax hike.
Former Morrisville Action campaign finance treasurer Margaret Broadwell now serves as the District 4 representative on the Town Council. Michael Schlink, a former Morrisville Action member, is now the at-large councilman.
But disagreements among group members have shaken up endorsements. Morrisville Action is backing Holcombe’s opponent, current Councilman Mark Stohlman, for the mayor’s seat.
Diehl, who is not seeking re-election, said he became unhappy with the direction of Morrisville Action. So he and his wife, Barbara, now lead Citizens for Morrisville, which gave its mayoral endorsement to Holcombe.
Citizens for Morrisville started unofficially about a year ago after a group of concerned residents began meeting to talk about what they considered the dysfunction of the Town Council, Diehl said.
For the past two years, council meetings have often been filled with arguments over procedural minutiae and bickering.
“We wanted a group that wouldn’t yield to special interest,” Diehl said.
Diehl said he first became troubled about Morrisville Action after he was elected in 2009. There were some rumblings within the Morrisville Action membership that the town’s then-Town Manager John Whitson should be fired.
Some said Whitson was not responsive to residents’ complaints, but Diehl said he believed Whitson was doing a good job.
Diehl said a financial backer of Morrisville Action told council members they would not receive the PAC’s endorsement if they voted to renew Whitson’s contract.
In 2011, council members Pete Martin and Linda Lyons, who voted to keep Whitson on the job, lost their seats. Morrisville Action had endorsed their opponents, Mark Stohlman and Michael Schlink.
Holcombe also voted to renew Whitson’s contract.
Broadwell, who did not vote to renew the contract, got Morrisville Action’s endorsement this year.
Broadwell and Morrisville Action spokeswoman Ty Elliott said the group did not pressure council members to get rid of Whitson, who left Morrisville last year to take a job in Texas.
“I felt we needed a new manager,” Broadwell said. “I felt he wasn’t as in tune with our citizenry as he should have been.”
Meanwhile, Broadwell said she was “aghast” that Diehl turned against the group that helped him get elected.
Elliott said the group’s endorsement decisions are based on candidate questionnaires and a review of incumbents’ records.
“Every election cycle is a new process,” Elliott said. “Morrisville Action selects the strongest candidate in each election regardless of past endorsements. The committee felt we needed Mark Stohlman’s calm, deliberate leadership and consensus-building.
“Jackie (Holcombe) has pushed for tax increases, for each of the last several years.”
Stohlman spoke out against a proposed tax hike in early 2012, but he pushed for more spending when revenue did not match expenditures.
Holcombe was one of two council members who voted against the budget in June 2012. She argued the town’s expenses exceeded revenue. To make up the difference, the town was dipping into its fund balance to pay for recurring staff expenses.
But Elliott said the group has other issues with Holcombe. The mayor’s stance on gun control has drawn attention away from town politics, Elliott said.
Holcombe has become a vocal advocate with Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This year, she asked Gander Mountain to stop selling semi-automatic assault rifles at its local store. She has also participated in “Moral Monday” protests.
“Jackie has become increasingly focused on using the mayoral platform to focus on national issues that can’t be affected on the town level,” Elliott said.
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