Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Election debate on city's horizon

Petition seeks open-seat elections in Sun Valley

Express Staff Writer

Residents of Sun Valley may soon see a change in the city's election process.

Milt Adam, who ran unsuccessfully for a designated council seat in the 2003 municipal election, submitted last week an initiative petition that requests the city restore open-seat elections for Sun Valley City Council.

The petition was filed Friday, March 25, with 170 Sun Valley residents' signatures.

Now, the City Council must decide how to move forward with the petition. The council could either decide to repeal the designated-seat election policy and enact an open-seat policy or choose to present the measure to voters.

"The open-seat election is the most fair and simple system. The designated-seat system has certain disadvantages," Adam said.

The question under consideration is whether the city should return to open-seat elections. Under an open-seat election policy, an at-large candidate who earns the most votes from the populous gains a council seat. Under the current policy, candidates run for a specific, assigned seat.

"Open-seat elections allow voters complete freedom to vote however they want and for whomever they want," Adam explained in a press release. "Designated-seat (separate seat) elections restrict voters' freedoms, benefit incumbents seeking re-election, and allow gaming the system to gain advantages including running unopposed, which has happened too frequently."

In 1995, Sun Valley approved the designated-seat policy. Under the policy, voters vote every other year for two candidates to fill specific numbered seats on the council. The policy requires the candidates to indicate which seat on council they would like to fill.

Adam argues the open-seat approach is always appropriate, and more so, for small communities like Sun Valley.

"Open-seat elections, wherein all candidates run for the two City Council seats and winners being the two with the highest number of votes, are totally fair and simple," Adam said.

Adam collected the signatures over the last month and a half, receiving 10 percent more than the necessary number of signatures.

Sun Valley City Clerk Janis Wright said the petition required 20 percent of Sun Valley's general election voters, or 119 of the 594 Sun Valley voters.

The council addressed a request for open-elections last fall. In October 2004, the council informally rejected a proposal by Mayor Jon Thorson to change the system.

Wright said the council will be made aware of the petition at the April 21 City Council meeting. Then, the body has 30 days to decide how to move forward.

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