Ad with petition sends a message

Did you read the newspaper?” I heard the gentleman say to an acquaintance as he walked toward the front desk inside the YMCA. I was walking toward the door after my morning workout

“I sure did,” he answered. “And read the editorials as well.” (The “editorials” were actually letters to the editor.)

“Now we will see if something gets done,” the YMCA member who asked the question said.

The buzz was all over Marshall Friday morning because of a full-page advertisement placed in the Independent. “The Undersigned business people, contractors, and citizens in the Marshall area petitioning that the city of Marshall” loomed large on the very top of page 7B. The ad listed accounts from area developers and business people who experienced major issues with City Hall’s building department. Demands were also listed. A review of the building department’s leadership was one of the demands. It was calling for a committee made up of citizens and contractors. It was also requesting a review of codes and ordinances.

More than 100 names were listed on the petition.

On Wednesday morning I called up Chet Lockwood of Lockwood Motors because I knew from Tuesday’s city council meeting he was one of the citizens behind the petition ad. We set up Thursday morning for a meeting.

When I walked into Lockwood’s office I found him sitting in front of his desk. But sitting on the right and left of the desk were Brad Strootman of Marshall Radio and Mike Fox of Ace Home and Hardware. A chair in the middle was left for me.

Suddenly I was sitting between the petition ringleaders.

“Did your phones light up Friday morning?” I asked.

“They still are,” Lockwood said.

“I got a call this morning,” Strootman said. “‘Can you run that ad again?'”

“It’s been mostly overwhelming,” Fox said.

“I haven’t heard one negative thing,” Lockwood said. “The calls, the emails, the thank yous.”

That ad has made the three businessmen very popular in Marshall. But they explained that the whole process wasn’t easy or enjoyable.

“I would say the atmosphere of the local business people in Marshall has been sour for six or eight years,” Lockwood explained. “It’s just past the boiling point. You could say we grabbed the reins on it because of a lot of angry people.”

Strootman shared how he was joking with Lockwood one day.

“I said, ‘Chet have we gotten anything done these days? Or are we just listening to guys bellyache?’ And he said ‘It’s two to four hours a week (listening to complaints about the city building department).'”

And then they explained how their conversation led to series of snowballing events.

“I said we should call a meeting,” Strootman said. “And the next morning at 9 a.m. 27 people showed up on a day’s notice. It shows how much disenchantment there is with the city.”

I asked if they are worried about repercussions on them or their businesses because of the petition. After all, a statement at the bottom of the ad expressed that fear.

“A dozen or more other Marshall businesses elected not to sign for fear of repercussions from the city, and that too is a problem,” it said.

“I think that goes to our point,” Strootman said. “If we are afraid of our city for standing up for what we think is right, that is a big problem. That was reflected on the last line of that petition on the very bottom. There were a dozen businesses and people scared to sign that. That is a big problem if that is even on people’s minds if there will be repercussions. It’s a citizen’s city, not City Hall’s city.”

“Did you lose some sleep over the whole process?” I asked.

The room got real quiet for few moments. Then laughter broke out between the three friends.

“It was not a fun process,” Fox said.

I then asked them if they hoped this situation would have been fixed without their involvement?

“We all have businesses to run. And we are taking time out of our day to address this issue that should have been addressed without going through this. Spending time and money is just frustrating,” Lockwood said.

But it was frustration that led these three friends to act. Their concern about their community and their businesses led to them act.

Even after a positive meeting with Mayor Bob Byrnes, the three decided to go ahead with their petition.

“We knew if we didn’t go ahead and run the petition, we would betray the guys in the room (who showed for the morning meeting). And all three of us admitted that since the discussion with the guys, there were times that maybe we thought there was a political solution,” Strootman said. “Maybe we wouldn’t have to humiliate and hold their (city officials) to the fire. But through it all we kept saying if we do that it may satisfy us, but it will betray those guys who kind of elected us and stranded us with the responsibility.

“So we decided to go ahead with the ad,” he said.

So the ad ran. Citizens responded by attending Tuesday’s city council meeting and expressing their dissatisfaction. One speaker during the meeting warned “You get it changed, or we’ll change you.”

It’s a message we are hearing a lot these days across our nation.

But for these three business people and good friends, they just want a problem at City Hall fixed for the good of their community.

“There is a big stigma in the area that Marshall is not friendly to building,” Fox said. “We need to fix that.”

And that is why they ran the advertisement.