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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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For the week of February 27 - March 5, 2002

  News

Advisory vote on Ketchum elections set for November


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Ketchum voters will decide in November how they want their city to hold its elections.

Ending a year-long debate, the Ketchum City Council voted unanimously Feb. 19 to seek citizen advice on the cityís long-standing election controversy, which pits an at-large voting system against a per-seat system.

The councilís decision means debate on the issue is not nearing conclusion, but rather is only beginning.

"I think we may have to go to referendum on this, and I donít like running government by referendum," Councilman Baird Gourlay said. "I believe this is the right way to go."

Councilman Randy Hall, who adamantly opposed the concept of a referendum, had a last-minute change of heart.

"This is a representative government, and I feel Iíve been elected to do a job," he said before changing his mind. "I feel like their votes in the voting booth have enabled me to make this decision right now."

Councilman Maurice Charlat and Mayor Ed Simon pushed earlier this year for an advisory ballot on the issue, but, until last weekís meeting, were denied an audience by their peers.

"I think this is a sacred issue," Charlat said. "The whole mechanism of how we vote should not be treated lightly by a small group."

In the meantime, the council is considering an amendment to the new election ordinance that would eliminate runoff elections in the future if the designated seats system is maintained. A final vote on the amendment may occur March 4.

The election debate surfaced last winter when the city council, over objections from former Mayor Guy Coles, unanimously voted to change the cityís voting procedures to a per-seat system from an at-large system. Councilman Charlat was absent from that meeting and later expressed outrage with the councilís haste on the issue.

Following a barrage of public objections to the change, officials held three public hearings to better gauge public sentiment. It was nearly unanimous. The citizens of Ketchum wanted the old, at-large system.

But the council was not swayed. Grounding arguments in the unfairness of so-called bullet voting, where voters cast one rather than two votes in an at-large format, the cityís leaders voted 3 to 1 to maintain the new, per-seat system. Charlat and several dozen Ketchum citizens objected.

Fast forward to November 2001:

Ketchumís November election was the first in which the city used the designated-seats system. It was a success for some and a failure for others, and the only clear conclusion to come out of it was that no one wants to hold another runoff election.

Councilman Gourlay, who won in a December runoff election, said he enjoyed running in the designated-seats system, which enabled a more specific, more substantive debate than the at-large format would have.

On the other hand, candidate Rod Sievers received the second-highest number of votes among city council candidates in November, second only to Chris Potters who won the seat versus Seivers, but was not elected.

Sievers, who got 496 votes, "got a huge number of votes, and heís sitting in the audience," Charlat pointed out. "Thereís something wrong with that.

Potters got 519 votes.

In an at-large system, assuming the votes were the same, which may not be the case, the result may have been different, Charlat said. Chris Potters and Rod Sievers might have won the election.

Campaigning for the November election for some also centered on the election controversy. Mayor Ed Simon, who soundly beat his four competitors, said he would work to overturn the designated-seats system. Simonís victory shows that public opinion is in favor of the at large system, Sun Valley resident Karen Reinheimer said.

But outspoken critics of the new system also failed to be elected. Sievers and one of Gourlayís two competitors, Anne Corrock, both said they would work to overturn the designated-seats system. Though their races were close, both ultimately were not elected.

So, rather than continue the debate in the cityís council chambers, it will be turned over to the people of Ketchum.

"I have a great trust in the voters," Councilwoman Potters said. "I feel both systems work well for everybody, but I donít have a problem letting the voters decide."

 


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.