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.”