Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Voters could decide SV election debate

Citizen pursuing initiative petition to establish open-seat system

Express Staff Writer

Milt Adam

The citizens of Sun Valley might soon get a chance to vote on whether the city should amend the process by which it elects members of the City Council.

Resident Milt Adam, an outspoken opponent of the city's designated-seat election process, is pursuing an initiative petition that would force the city to either adopt an open-seat election system or put the matter before voters.

"The present system can produce bastard results and gives favor and advantage to incumbents and is self-serving," Adam noted this week in a press release.

At issue is whether the city should establish an election system that awards council seats to at-large candidates that earn the most votes from the public, instead of candidates who earn the most votes for a specific, assigned seat.

Under a system approved in 1995, Sun Valley asks the electorate to vote every other year for two separate candidates seeking to fill specific numbered seats on the council. Terms on the council last for four years, with two members of the panel being re-elected or replaced every two years.

Candidates are required in the process to designate which of the two seats up for election they intend to fill.

In recent years, Adam has repeatedly argued to city officials that designated-seat elections favor incumbents and inhibit a fruitful debate of important issues.

The City Council has openly discussed the matter twice in the last two years, declining both times to make any changes to the established system.

One discussion came last fall, when Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson asked the city's four council members to abolish the designated-seat election process in favor of an open-seat system.

Despite testimony from several Sun Valley residents supporting the open-seat system, the council rejected the mayor's proposal without taking a formal vote.

In his draft petition, Adam proposes that the city adopt an ordinance that repeals legislation enabling designated-seat elections and adopts a system in which the "number of candidates receiving the highest number of votes, equal to the number of offices to be filled, shall be declared elected."

Sun Valley City Clerk Janis Wright said Adam—to force the council to act on the petition—must get 172 signatures from registered Sun Valley voters, which is 20 percent of the 858 voters who participated in the last election.

The city of Ketchum—after a long public debate on the matter—in February 2003 returned to an open-seat election process after spending approximately two years under the designated-seat system.

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