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Courtesy Hillsdale City Council

Despite the removal of the 20-year-old beloved “It’s the people” signs this week, stu­dents and res­i­dents from Hillsdale are making a last-ditch effort to stop the instal­lation of the new, college-themed signs.

Although the city said the new signs are con­structed and scheduled for instal­lation next week, a letter obtained by The Hillsdale Col­legian to res­ident Penny Swan from coun­cilman Brian Watkins said if res­i­dents make a showing at the Hillsdale City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, there is a potential to stop the instal­lation.

Cit­izens and stu­dents who wish for the old sign to stay would need to lobby the council members to add the signs to the Sept. 19 agenda. In addition, they would need to make a strong showing at the meeting to make a statement.

“If you’re serious about fixing this you need to round up 10 – 20 people or more to fill the chambers and speak at the meeting,” Watkins wrote in an email to Swan. “Request that the Council stop the progress of the instal­lation and set a public hearing on the matter. This is the only way it can be fixed.”

City Clerk David French said no city offi­cials have made a motion to make the signs an order of business at Monday’s meeting.
For the public to comment on stopping the instal­lation of the signs, the council would need to add it as an item on the public agenda. Oth­erwise, res­i­dents and stu­dents could only speak during the public session at the end of the meeting.

“In my mind, there is no way to get the instal­lation of the signs stopped, unless they add it to the agenda and there is serious public outcry before the meeting,” Swan told The Col­legian. “If they add it to the agenda and we get enough people to show up, we could change it.”

In 2014, Hillsdale College approached the city council offering to pay for new entrance signs leading into the city from M-99 on the north and south sides of town. The city and the college col­lab­o­rated on a design, which removed the “It’s the people” slogan that has been on the sign for more than 20 years. The new signs would replace it with a college-cen­tered message reading, “Welcome to His­toric Hillsdale: Home of Hillsdale College.”

After the issue of the new signs gained attention from the com­munity, a local Facebook group, Hillsdale’s Hot Debates, posted a poll asking res­i­dents what they thought about the removal of “It’s the people.” Of the more than 270 respon­dents who voted, approx­i­mately 200 elected to keep the slogan on the sign. Hillsdale junior Matthew Wylie was one and said he believes it’s crucial to fight for the sign.

“A sign that says ‘Home of Hillsdale College’ empha­sizes nothing about the town or the college town,” Wylie said. “‘But ‘It’s the people’ has always said some­thing that’s very true of both the town and the college. I would go to that meeting. That slogan is some­thing that con­nects upper­classmen to lower classmen and stu­dents to alumni. We’ve all taken pride in that sign, and losing it would be a shame.”

Many members of the com­munity as well as a crowd of stu­dents claimed on the Facebook page that the city wasn’t trans­parent with the town on the new change and said they felt the new signs took away a segment of the town’s identity.

Swan wrote another email con­cerning the signs to City Manager David Mackie. In response to Swan, Mackie clar­ified that the city made the new sign designs public on several occa­sions.

“The original vote on the sign was held Jan. 20, 2014, in public session,” Mackie said. “The vote was on a design very similar to the one pre­sented pub­li­cally during the July 18, 2016, City Council meeting. During both the January 20 and July 18 meetings the picture of the pro­posed sign and wording was included in the City Council packets and no oppo­sition from either the City Council or public was voiced, so the sign was con­structed.”

Even if the city signs aren’t added to the agenda for Monday’s meeting, and the last-ditch effort to block the instal­lation of the signs fails, Mackie said dis­cussion over the signs will con­tinue. Mackie said he plans to include public dis­cussion in October or November about how to incor­porate the slogan into the new designs.

“Once the signs are installed the city will look at options for adding on ‘It’s the People,’” Mackie said. “Those options will be taken to City Council during a public meeting for con­sid­er­ation. I antic­ipate City Council dis­cussion on the topic either the second meeting in October or first meeting in November.”

Hillsdale Zoning Admin­is­trator Alan Beeker said the new welcome signs on the north and south entrances to the city from M-99 would be accom­panied by two sec­ondary signs, which will bear the logos of service clubs in town, including the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. Beeker said the city council hopes to speak with res­i­dents about incor­po­rating the logo on a sign above those service logos.

“Nothing will be done until the instal­lation of the signs,” Beeker said. “We hope the public and council may agree on the idea of adding the ‘It’s the people’ slogan above those service logos.”
Although many are torn between the idea of the new signs replacing the old ones, coun­cilman Watkins said he hopes people will engage the local gov­ernment and make a showing for the cause they strongly believe in.

“The council will act, if there is a room full of bonafide cit­izens and stu­dents telling them to act,” Watkins said. “If it’s only a couple people and some of them aren’t directly tied to the city, I don’t think you’ll get what you’re after. If the people want to keep it and the people act, I’m happy to support them.”

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Thomas Novelly
Collegian Editor-in-Chief, Thomas Novelly was born in Novi, Michigan, but was raised in Franklin, Tennessee, making him a self-proclaimed "Yankee gone South." Thomas began writing for The Collegian as a sophomore, and since has served as a reporter, columnist, and Assistant City News Editor. He has also worked for two major publications, interning at the Washington Free Beacon in D.C. and The Tennessean in Nashville. His work has been seen in National publications such as CBS News, National Review Online, Stars And Stripes, and USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
  • Penny Swan

    I hope to see many local cit­izens at the meeting this Monday.